By now I don’t think it’s news to anyone that our economy here in the United States is in a mess. A big mess. A miserable, what the **** were they thinking kind of mess.

In other words, yes, the bailouts displease me. The collapse of so many major financial institutions due to excessively risky business decisions displeases me even more.

With my husband freshly into work again, I have great sympathy for the many who are suddenly unemployed due to this. Any time a family loses an income it’s rough.

It’s worse if it’s their only income.

My family was very lucky, since I work at home and was able to earn enough to keep us afloat. Not by much; southern California is very expensive to live in even at the best of times. It helped that my inlaws paid for the COBRA coverage so that we could keep the health insurance. Especially when I became pregnant.

A lot of at-home parents don’t have that kind of backup. What should you be doing?

1. Assess your family’s financial situation.

Are you just scraping by? How many months’ income do you have saved up as an emergency fund?

Before a problem develops is the best time to prepare for one. Consider how you can save up money to cope with the loss of a job.

2. Assess your family’s income sources.

Your spouse’s job probably comes first to mind in this case. Is it stable?

Your assessment will probably be a combination of facts and gut feelings. You probably have some idea as to how things are going in your area. You probably hear about whether or not coworkers are getting antsy about job stability.

What about alternate careers? Could either of you find another job quickly if the current one vanished?

Remember that if layoffs or closures happen the competition for other jobs in the area will explode. Even if you don’t think it will be necessary it may be a good idea to brush up those resumes.

You will of course also need to look at any investments you have. Considering how the stock market is going, it’s a good time to figure out if you’re riding it out or moving your investments around. My father-in-law is working on this one right now. He rode the dot-com bubble burst out and wishes he hadn’t. But will it be different this time? It’s hard to say.

3. Consider alternate income sources.

You may want to consider ways to earn money from home if you aren’t already. Better to do it when you can take the time to do your research and avoid work at home scams than to do it when quick money feels like the only solution.

If you decide that working at home is a solution for you, it’s far better to look at the possibilities with some calm, cool reflection rather than in a panic. Not only do scams abound, but many home businesses take time to build up. And you can’t forget the whole learning curve, which can add up fast in time or money.

4. Plan cutbacks.

If things get bad enough, the time may come to cut your budget to the bone. It can come down to extremely painful considerations.

When my husband was out of work, for example, we had to consider moving in with my inlaws. The thought was intensely painful for me and only somewhat less so for my husband. We are rather used to our independence, after all. But if it came down to it, there was that possibility.

Hopefully you won’t have to consider anything that extreme. But you may have to find ways to cut back monthly bills still further, even if you’re already frugal.

5. Stock up.

Stocking up on things that won’t go bad can be a help with getting through tight economic times. You probably won’t be able to stock up on enough to make THE difference, but it can be a help. But since stocking up on groceries and other supplies doesn’t do a thing about other bills, this is of limited help.

6. Don’t panic.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide has this one exactly right. Don’t Panic!

Whether we’re facing a major recession or a small one, you can get through it. It may take some effort, some sacrifices and some creativity, but you can do it.

Plan now. Talk with friends and family. Figure out what you can do now that may help you if things get rough for your family.

A lot of people and businesses are being hit hard already. We’re going to have to deal with the consequences of many years of giving financial institutions too little regulation, and with the decision to essentially socialize some of these companies rather than let them collapse completely. None of it will be simple. It will take time. It’s going to be hard on a lot of families.

Some planning now may help to ease the strain on your own family, or at least allow you to react more quickly as problems arise.