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Paying for college and saving for retirement are two of the biggest financial anxieties on most American's minds. Despite this fact, consumer spending is at an all-time high and personal savings at an all-time low. But if your financial house is not in order at a very basic level, you shouldn't even begin to consider saving for long-term goals. If you are one of the millions of Americans carrying average credit card debt of more than $7,000, your first step to realizing your long-term goals is to get out of debt.
Find a certified credit counseling agency near you (check out the National Consumer Finance Foundation's Web site), and get some help setting up a family budget and debt repayment plan. Once you have your debts paid off, tweak your budget so you can build an emergency fund. Your emergency fund should be enough to cover three to six months of living expenses. Without an emergency fund, the next time disaster strikes (dead car, lost job), you'll be right back to hitting the credit cards. Once you have your emergency fund, then and only then should you consider planning for longer-term goals.
To help you get your finances in order, meet short-term, interim, and long-term financial goals, check out Suze Orman's book "The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical & Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying." It's a treasure trove of excellent advice. You can also visit SuzeOrman.com and find reams of information on all stages of financial planning.