smart spending

The upside of the down economy

Rediscover your career passion

In March, the U.S. unemployment rate hit its highest level since 1983, and people are beginning to see and feel the effects of layoffs.

If you have already been laid off, Howard sees an opportunity to rethink your vocation.

"If you're mid-career, your level of self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses is developed, plus you know all the areas where you can make money."

He separates career satisfaction into three areas: red, yellow and green. If you are working in yellow, you have a gift, but no passion. Green is the ultimate goal -- you have the gift and the passion, and red is the job you want to avoid -- the one where you have neither the gift nor the passion.

Typically people know when they're in the wrong job altogether, or if there are parts of their job that they abhor, because they are drained of energy at the end of the day. A forced job hiatus might provide the boost to explore career options that would put you in the green.

Taking a volunteer position in an area you're passionate about may be an opportunity for networking while you "test drive" a new profession, he says.

If you're not one of the pink-slipped, Cunningham says, make sure you beef up your emergency fund and consider putting in more than the typical three to six months of living expenses. "The rule of thumb used to be that you should plan to be out of work one month for every $10,000 you earned, but that was back in the day," she says. "Now we have it hitting home that we have to save more. People have gotten that financial wake-up call."

Re-examine your relationship with money

Finally, Howard exhorts people to rethink their relationship with money and keep it in perspective.

"When I do financial seminars, I ask participants to make a list of five moments of joy in their lives. Hardly ever does a thing pop up. What pops up most is 'time spent with family on vacation,'" he says. "Life doesn't consist of things. Life consists of relationships and what we accomplish."

Howard offers three steps for financial success:

  1. Give something away -- even if it's just $5 to the Salvation Army. "There are people who are in need. Go out and find them and give them some. You've already made a conscious decision that you can do without."
  2. Save something.
  3. Live on what's left.

Says Howard: "If you adjust your lifestyle to fit within what you can afford after you give and after you save, you may not be wealthy, but you'll be financially successful."

Do you have a story to tell us about how you've found an upside to the down economy? E-mail us.

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