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Financial sense can lead to security

In the last few months real estate foreclosures in our country have increased at a rapid pace. This foreclosure crisis has made national and local headlines.

The Woodbury Bulletin ran a cover story in its March 12 issue which stated more than 200 homes were in some stage of foreclosure in 2007, the highest number in Washington County.

I know difficult and unexpected events do happen in life that can throw our finances out of balance and leave us in huge debt. Layoffs, divorce, sudden illness and death can happen, things that can be out of our control. In those situations, foreclosures may be unavoidable.

But I also think some foreclosures are preventable if people would take more personal responsibility with their finances and life.

I have seen people who live from paycheck to paycheck every month buy lunch out every day and get sodas and snacks from vending machines regularly. I would bring lunch and snacks from home every day to save money so I don't have to live from paycheck to paycheck.

It is a personal choice when people buy more than they can afford. If I want something but can't pay for it, then I shouldn't and wouldn't buy it.

Personally, I would rather live below my means to achieve financial security and freedom than living above my means to have a nice appearance, but under a lot of financial pressure and stress.

I would like to offer a few ideas for people who want to take their financial life under control to avoid foreclosure and debt as much as possible.

• Save for a rainy day

No matter how much money you make, set aside a portion of your pay for emergencies and for a few months' living expenses.

Some people might say, "I make the minimum wage and can't save anything." My response to that is, "Yes, you can if you really want to." Whether you can save or not doesn't depend solely on how much your income is. It also depends on your own will.

When I grew up, my parents didn't have much money. They literally had to count every penny. But they still managed to save a little bit of money for an emergency.

One memory from my teenage years that stuck in my mind vividly was that my father often reminded me to stop reading or doing homework in the evening and turn off the light and go to bed early so our expense for electricity won't go higher. At that time I really resented my father for his comments.

But later as I grew older and started my own family, I began to understand my father and the circumstances better. He was just trying to reduce living expenses and save money.

With a family of four plus grandparents to support on my parents' low income, they really had no other choice. Now I appreciate my parents for having taught me the lesson of resourceful and frugal living.

From today's perspective, this is not a good example or a good way for saving money. But whenever I think about this subject, this memory comes back to me.

• Emergency fund

Keep an emergency fund equal to three to six month's worth of basic living expenses. When unexpected things happen, you can tap into the emergency fund for meeting temporary and urgent needs. An emergency fund is necessary for your financial security and peace of mind.

• Live below your means

Do not buy anything you cannot afford, especially the stuff you want but don't really need immediately. The big house and the new car may look good to you and feel good to your ego, but if you can't afford them, then be content with what you have.

• Control spending

Don't indulge in impulse spending or over spending which will jeopardize your financial future. Learn to recognize your wants from your needs. Don't use shopping and spending to fulfill your emotional needs. There are better and less expensive ways to do that.

• Reduce expenses

There are many things you can do to reduce expenses. If you need ideas, get some books from the library. You can read Mary Hunt's books or subscribe to the online newsletter The Dollar Stretcher ( Unlimited resources are available in the library and on the Internet.

• Cash only

People tend to overspend with credit cards. So if you have a spending problem, pay cash only. Leave your credit cards at home when you go shopping and use them only for emergency, travel or when necessary.

• Pay off credit cards

Credit cards usually have high interest rates. If you do use credit cards, pay off the balances every month to avoid high interest.

• Be creative

If you want to watch a movie or read a book, check it out from the library. If you want to visit a museum, get a free pass from the library.

If you need a birthday card, make one yourself. There are so many things you can do without having to spend money. Just be creative, mindful and resourceful.

What are the benefits of doing all these things? You gain financial security and freedom.

In 2003, the organization where I was working at had a mass layoff. I was bumped out of my position by someone who had more seniority and I was laid off as a result. While this caused many people anxiety, I didn't lose sleep over it, because I knew I was OK financially. My life did not depend on my next paycheck.

When relatives or friends need money for emergency, I can loan or give them money if I want to. I have the means and freedom to do so because I have saved for a rainy day, as my parents taught me.

Yes, you can achieve the same financial security and freedom if you choose to, and make the commitment to be financially responsible.