Proactive Strategies for Coping With Economic Chaos
One of the many news stories about Occupy Wall Street featured a young woman named Kate, 25, who had come to New York City hoping to break into acting. In the meantime, she was working in a restaurant and struggling to repay $50,000 in student loans. Plus, she had incurred unexpected hospital bills and had no health insurance. She had come to Zuccotti Park because, she said, "I just wanted some kind of hope for young people starting out, who think the deck is stacked against them."
As someone who in a parallel life writes a column about young people and money, I couldn't help taking a stab at giving Kate (and others like her) some hope, along with some practical advice.
For instance, she may have to acknowledge what generations of aspiring actresses before her have learned: Making it on Broadway might not be in the cards, regardless of the state of the economy. She could be better off financially by trying her luck in a less expensive city with brighter job prospects.
As for her student loans, Kate can at least take advantage of special programs for federal loans that offer graduated payments and income-based repayment options to help ease the burden. I always advise families that the best way out of the student-debt trap is to avoid it altogether by choosing a school you can afford, possibly an in-state public college (see our rankings of the best public schools).
And when it comes to health coverage, healthy adults in their early twenties can buy a policy for less than $100 a month in most states (see our advice on buying health insurance on your own). If cost is an issue or if a preexisting condition is involved, adult children may stay on their parents' policies until age 26.
My advice may not solve all of Kate's problems (or those of her contemporaries), but she might feel more in control if she takes some proactive steps to improve her situation. That's our goal here at Kiplinger's -- to help you take control of your finances in a turbulent world.
Another way to master your finances is by preparing for the specter of inflation. It's fairly tame now, but as analysts debate the future implications of the Federal Reserve's easy monetary policies, senior associate editor Nellie Huang takes a practical look at whether Treasury inflation-protected securities should be part of your portfolio. If you want a hedge against inflation but don't like TIPS, you have other options: laddered CDs with staggered maturities that can be reinvested when they come due; a commodities fund; and, yes, stocks.
Save a bundle. When it comes to being proactive, you can't beat our cover story, in which we present 26 moves you can make in 15 minutes or less and save thousands. No, we're not exaggerating. In compiling our list, we had two major criteria: Each move had to save you money, and each had to be doable in the requisite quarter-hour. That left out some of our favorite financial fixes. For example, you can check your credit report in less than 15 minutes, but that won't necessarily save you money -- at least not directly. Switching to another bank can save you a bundle in fees, but the process may take a while. Still, if you try even a couple of the strategies that made our list, you, like Kate, will feel more in control of your money.
P.S. Get free retirement saving advice from a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors on January 12 and January 17 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. eastern time. Call 888-919-2345 or go to kiplinger.com/links/jumpstart.