Think you've avoided the worst of the economic fallout to date? Don't be so sure. You might already be in deep trouble -- whether you realize it or not.

Lots of American families will take huge financial hits this year. In addition to the usual threats to household financial security -- sudden health crises, divorces, rampaging velociraptors on hoverboards -- millions of households will get hit by one or both of 2009's special offerings:

Even if you don't think you're at risk now, last year showed us how quickly things could go downhill. The coming months will bring unprecedented -- and unexpected -- financial challenges to millions. Those who aren't prepared for the challenges will suffer the worst.

If you've never paid serious attention to the nitty-gritty of your personal finances, you could be in serious financial danger. If you want to maximize your chances of avoiding financial doom, you need to get your financial act together now.

And yes, I know that sounds like an incredibly boring task. But it can be very easy -- and it could save your financial hindquarters. Read on.

The margin for error is smaller than ever
Do you know -- off the top of your head, to the nearest $100 or so -- how much your family spends on groceries every month? Do you know how much life insurance coverage you have? Is Quicken a close personal friend? When will you be able to retire?

If you don't know the answers to those questions (and your spouse doesn't, either), it's time to get up to speed. With the economy and the markets in the worst troughs we've seen in years, our margin for financial error is smaller than ever.

Think about it. What would you do if a major financial setback hit? Job openings are getting hard to come by. Raises and bonuses are being canceled or suspended. Credit is getting harder to come by. And the home equity cushions that many had come to count on as an emergency buffer have shrunken dramatically -- and, in many cases, evaporated.

You may not be able to avoid such a setback in coming months, but you can improve your response to it by getting up to speed on your financial situation and options right now.

Is that a sword hanging from your ceiling?
Here's an example: If you have an option ARM or other adjustable-rate mortgage, hopefully you're very aware of the terms and implications by now -- and hopefully you're taking steps to manage those implications, even if your reset date is still months away. With luck, you'll be able to navigate the triple threat of tighter lending standards, reduced home equity, and roughed-up personal finances and get your loan refinanced.

But lots of people won't be that lucky -- and that's the other side of this coin. Staying current on those much bigger post-reset payments will require some drastic rethinking of their personal finances -- rethinking that should start as soon as possible.

Join the frantic-rethinking club
Layoffs already have millions of Americans doing that kind of reconsideration. These are just a few highlights -- or perhaps the lowlights -- of 2009's job cuts:


Layoffs Announced Recently

Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT)


Accenture (NYSE:ACN)




Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ)


Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG)


Continental Airlines (NYSE:CAL)


Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW)


Source: Forbes, company releases.

Many more are coming, of course. And while being laid off can be a blessing in disguise for some, it's never good news for household finances in the short run. But again, the people who will suffer the most are those who aren't prepared -- and preparation starts with knowing where you're at.

Would you believe that we've come up with a way to make this simple -- and maybe even fun?

A simple way to get the job done
The Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter dubbed 2009 the "Year of Fiscal Fitness." Yeah, it sounds kind of silly -- but a little bit of silly helps this kind of work get done. Advisor Robert Brokamp and his team have come up with a whole bunch of resources to help you find the motivation to get your financial house in order -- and to make the process as painless as possible.

Want motivation? They'll show you how better control of your money can give you more freedom now, as well as more options should disaster strike. A written plan? How about a calendar that separates the necessary tasks into small bites and spreads them out over time, with friendly (and infrequent) email reminders to help you keep going? Are you like me, perpetually disorganized? They can help with that, too, with a section on assembling a simple "financial control center" and contributions from productivity guru David Allen, author of the famous Getting Things Done.

It's not too late to get started today. Rule Your Retirement is a paid service, but you can get 30 days of full access absolutely free. Use that time to decide whether the Fiscal Fitness tools are right for you. If not, it costs you nothing but a little time -- and you'll have learned a bit and had some fun along the way. The first step is the most important -- click here to take it now.

This article, written by John Rosevear, was originally published on Jan. 22, 2009. It has been updated by Dan Caplinger, who doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Accenture is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy knows the value of knowing the value.