Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

In the face of continuing economic challenges, more and more people are asking me for new ways to handle their finances. They're more than worried -- some are downright scared that they'll never reach the financial dreams they once had for themselves and their families.

Granted, many of us are confronting new financial questions, but that doesn't mean the answers have to be new. In fact, I believe that the financial advice that made good sense in the past still makes sense today. You probably heard this advice from your parents or grandparents or have given it to your own kids: Live within your means; save for the future; create an emergency fund; stay out of debt.

Now I know these are general ideas that are easy to talk about. The tricky part is to put them into practice, especially today. So to help you, I've created a kind of "to do" list for financial security. I've started with what I think everyone should do all the time (and especially in times like these) and then added on some age-specific ideas of what you can do to make sure you're on top of things.

See how many items you can check off -- and what you still need to work on. If you can turn this general advice into specific habits during your working years, you'll be in better financial shape regardless of the economic conditions.

What everyone can do to get through today's crunch

There's no use hiding our heads in the sand. We're in a recession and, no matter what your age or financial situation, you want to protect yourself. So stay on top of everything -- your budget, your credit card debt, your savings. Set priorities and share them with your family. If you plan together, you're more likely to work successfully together to reach your financial goals.

Here are some essential things that everyone needs to take care of. You may have heard them before, but they're worth repeating:

-- If you don't have a budget, create one and live within it. When you need to cut back, start with all those "nice to haves" like eating out, travel and entertainment. Better to use that extra money to build up your emergency fund.

-- Make sure there's enough in your emergency fund to cover a minimum of three months of essential expenses and keep this money easily accessible. Depending on your job security and other assets, you may want to have up to twelve months of expenses in reserve.

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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