There’s nothing like the worst recession in a generation to throw a wrench into the best-laid financial plans. From skyrocketing household bills to vanishing small business income, money—the best way to make it, spend it and invest it—is the most pressing topic on
people’s minds.

We asked readers to send us their biggest money problem, then took three of these financial challenges to our experts for advice. The common thread in each answer was the belief that no money problem is too big to be fixed. Some can be fixed in conventional ways; others require more out-of-the-box approaches.

The big takeaway for everyone? Our experts say it is imperative that lessons are learned so that these money mistakes are never repeated.
Developing good money habits, whether you are a homemaker or business owner, is key to financial freedom.

The Problem
Small Business Conundrum
Q:How do you maintain a small business during an overall financial downturn? And is there any help/aid for small businesses that are struggling financially to stay in business?
The Fix
Tweak Business Model
By Deborah Owens, financial expert and author of A Purse of Your Own

I applaud you for taking the entrepreneurial plunge and creating your own opportunity in this challenging economic environment.  The first step to becoming clear about your finances is to “get to the bottom of your purse.” This means creating a budget to determine how much money you actually need to pay your bills. If your business is not generating enough revenue to pay your bills, you do want to get help.  When I started my business, I was in a similar situation and was referred to the Small Business Administration ( It offers counseling by retired executives who help evaluate your business model to determine if you have a viable business. My counselor advised me to tweak my business model and market my services to companies and organizations instead of individuals.  You don’t have to give up on your dream of entrepreneurship, but you must be clear about how much money you need and if you have a profitable business model. In the early years, I had to take on long-term assignments and go back into the workforce until I could make the business viable enough to replace my income needs.  I would advise you to take a similar approach to determine exactly what you will need to do in order to have your business fully support your lifestyle.  Sometimes you have to flip the script and have the business be a side hustle until you grow it enough to replace your income needs.

The Problem
Ends Don’t Meet
Q:This recession has hit my family really hard. I was laid off two years ago and have worked sporadically ever since. My wife has a stable job, but we still struggle to pay our bills on time. Banks don’t give short-term loans. We have considered getting a payday loan to help us when we fall short. Is that a good idea? What are some other options we should consider?

By Kevin Kimble,
Financial Expert and Vice President of Enova Financial Services

The Fix
Consider viable nonbank options

You are not alone in this situation; research shows that 25 percent of Americans don’t have $100 in the bank, and 50 percent don’t have $800.  Do an Internet search for lending options, and you may find lenders in your state who make installment loans (i.e., loans with repayment terms as long as 36 months). There is also a growing lending option called auto equity, which could allow you to secure a loan with the equity in your vehicle. Depending on your state, there may be other finance options available. Nonbank lending varies by state, so you will have to do some research. If you live in a state with installment lending, getting a loan with longer repayment terms would be more budget friendly than a payday loan. If your credit is still relatively good, consider applying for a credit card or asking your current credit card company to raise the limit on your existing card. There’s always the option of borrowing money from a friend or relative. Again, all lending options come with risks, so you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. Also, remember this feeling. When you get on your feet, you should force yourself to save! The more money you have in a ‘rainy-day fund,’ the better off you will be when that day comes.

The Problem
Retirement Worries
Q: How do you know how much you really need to save for retirement? And how do you go about saving enough without breaking the family budget?

The Fix
Start Early and Have Reasonable Expectations
By Lanta Evans-Motte, Independent Financial Advisor Affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc.

To help workers gauge whether their current savings rate is sufficient to meet their retirement income goals, Fidelity Investments recently announced some guidelines for retirement savings. Although each individual’s situation will likely differ, the average worker should save at least eight times his ending salary to replace 85 percent of his pre-retirement income. To reach the eight-times level by age 67, Fidelity suggests workers should have saved their annual salary at age 35, three times that amount at age 45 and five times that amount at age 55.  The maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age in 2012 was $2,513 per month; however, the estimated average monthly Social Security benefit payable in January 2012 (after the cost-of-living increase) for all retired workers was $1,229.  If Social Security typically accounts for only 40 percent of retired people’s annual income, where will the rest of  their funds come from?  Bottom line: They will need to save more of their own money while they are still working. Inadequate savings can greatly hinder their plans for a comfortable retirement. Begin with reasonable expectations for your golden years. After that, reducing expenses before retirement and increasing their savings rate (percent income saved each year) may make a huge difference in closing any gaps. Saving for retirement shouldn’t hurt. It should be money workers can comfortably put away after all of  their  expenses have been paid. Contact a licensed financial professional for assistance.