The New Year: Dealing with Economic Stress

During the 2008 holiday season, Americans sought ways to simplify-that is, spend less money.  As we begin a New Year, our nation’s economic uncertainty continues.  Thousands of American families are not only tightening their belts but learning new spending and saving strategies.  Families are no longer able or willing to rely on credit, so they are reprioritizing expenses and rediscovering the charms of home.

The eXtension Foundation, an educational partnership of 74 universities in the United States, offers advice for families that is both practical and personal.  “Studies have found that many families do not adjust their lifestyle for about six months after their income is reduced,” reports eXtension.  “That six months of ignoring the situation can bring disaster. When you take charge of your financial situation immediately, you are making a positive contribution to your family’s well-being now and in the future.”  Some suggestions:

  •  Make a list of the family’s most important expenses while you have less income. (This means things you must have or do.)
  • Make a family spending plan to determine where your money will go. Develop a family budget you can use to cope with your income situation.
  • Decide where you will spend your money. Stick to your spending plan. With less income, each spending decision is critical.

Cutting back on spending doesn’t mean cutting back on the fun.  In fact, having less money to spend on entertainment creates more opportunities for quality time with those you love.  During the holidays, many moms were secretly grateful for the excuse to simplify because it made family time more meaningful.  Here are eXtention’s ideas to carry that spirit into the New Year:

Take advantage of local public resources:

  • Spend time together at the park or local community festival.
  • Go for hikes or bike rides.
  • Go for a family picnic.
  • Go swimming at the local pool, lake, ocean, or springs.
  • Take advantage of free programs offered by the library, museums, and community bands or orchestras, or other free community events.
  • Check out books, music, and videos for free from the library.

Find cheaper entertainment at home:

  • Have a family game night.
  • Rent or borrow movies, pop some popcorn, and have a family movie night at home.
  • Bake or cook together as a family.
  • Read stories to one another.
  • Go on evening walks together.

Help your children learn new skills and ideas:

  • Teach children how to garden.
  • Teach children craft skills you enjoy and spend time doing these together.
  • Teach children about issues that are important, such as politics, news, the environment, or others. Are there opportunities in the community to volunteer as a family for a cause you all believe in?

(Visit http://www.extension.org/ online for more resources and ideas on coping in tough economic times.)

Above all, it’s important to look for the possibilities in the situation and not focus solely on what we’re doing without.  The way parents respond to economic challenges sets an important example for children that will help them in the future.   Make the best of the situation and be grateful for the people and the material goods in your life!

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