After hearing about the downward economy all over the news, it's finally happened to you. You've been laid off and now face the challenge of figuring out what to do next.

After hearing about the downward economy all over the news, it's finally happened to you. You've been laid off and now face the challenge of figuring out what to do next.

Here are seven primary steps to take to prepare yourself and get through these tough times.

STEP ONE: File for unemployment.
"Sometimes you can get benefits for up to 20 weeks," said Clint Helmbrecht, CFP, owner, Prospera Financial Group. "And sometimes you can file for an additional six to 13 weeks. Some people may not qualify, but it's a good idea to file first to buy you some time."

STEP TWO: Review your budget.
Sort out what you have, what you need and what you want.

"This is a good time to think about where you are and what you have," Helm-brecht said. "Look at your needs and wants. Do you really need cable and Internet connections? Sometimes we think of our wants as our needs and when it comes down to it, there are things you may not have realized that you could live without to save some money."

It's important when cutting funds to keep the entire family in the loop. When you can, discuss possibilities as a family unit, so everyone feels like they are contributing.

"Depending on the age of the kids, they could completely understand the situation," Helmbrecht said. He explained that getting input and buy-in from the children may make it easier to cut the budget. Talk about what is and is not possible. Also look for lower-cost recreation alternatives that get kids out and active.

STEP THREE: Take a look
at your savings account and assess how long it will last based on your monthly bills.

Most financial planners say to keep 3 to 6 months'- worth of income in a savings account. But for those who live more paycheck to paycheck, this may not be an option. Having a savings account could buy you some time while youlook for a new job, thereby relieving some of the financial stress.

Helmbrecht said to be careful when dipping into retirement savings and suggested taking a loan from your 401K as opposed to just making a withdrawal. "You can take a loan sometimes and avoid fees," he said. "Withdrawing without intending to pay it back can result in high fees and you lose savings in the long run."

Another option is to withdraw from your kids' college accounts. "It's never easy to do, but the reality is you can get loans to pay for college. You can't get loans to pay for retirement."

STEP FOUR: Reassess health insurance benefits.
If you receive benefits from your spouse, this may be a time to assess deduct-ibles and features you may not need. This goes for home, auto, life, etc. Also, shop around other insurance companies to get better rates. If you have lost healthcare coverage, most people will qualify for COBRA coverage. If you're healthy and don't have pre-existing conditions, you may be eligible to get independent coverage. Some good places to look are ehealthinsurance.com and your county's Job and Family Services office.

STEP FIVE: Avoid leaning too heavily on credit.
If you already have a lot of credit card debt, call the credit card companies. They may lower your interest rates and/or your minimum payments until you get a new job. Also, avoid using credit cards for cash advances. Advances are typically loaned at much higher interest rates than normal charges.

STEP SIX: Start networking.
Networking is one of the best and easiest ways to find out about new careers. "Most people don't network until they have to," Helm-brecht said. "There is a lot of value in networking. Each person you talk to may know another 100 200 people."

STEP SEVEN : Be open to part-time work in the interim.
Working part-time will bring in income while you're searching for a more permanent position. It also helps you gain experience that you can add to your resume.


10 things to do with your kids without hurting your wallet:
Go to a Clippers game: Get kids out to enjoy America's favorite pastime, and check out Columbus' great new ballpark. Box seats: $12 in advance, $15 day of game. Reserved seats: $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and children 12 and under. Assigned bleacher seat general admission: $6 for adults, $3 for seniors and children 12 and under. Columbus Museum of Art: Upcoming exhibitions include Ohio Art League and Kojo: Fifty Years in Photography. Adults: $10; seniors 60 and over and students 18 + (with valid ID): $8. Students 6 -17: $5. Children 5 and under: free. Columbus Metro parks: An easy and free way to get kids outside and active. The parks offer many summer programs for all ages. You can see what's available and register online by visiting http://reservations.metroparks.net/programs/. Day trip to Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills: One of Ohio's most southern parks, it has over 25 miles of hiking trails, more cascading waterfalls than you can count on both hands (and your toes, too), and lots of unusual rock formations. Free. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium: On Wednesdays Franklin County residents receive half-price admission: Ages 2-9 and 60+: $2.50. Ages 10-59: $5. Visit the library: The library has ongoing free events including summer reading programs. Check Columbus Parent Magazine's Out & About Calendar for events. Festivals around town: Most cities put on festivals throughout the summer. Visit experiencecolumbus.com to check out the dates, or look at Columbus Parent Magazine's Summer Fun Guide in June's issue, or online at ColumbusParent.com. Varied costs. Ohio Historical Center: Revisit Ohio's past inside this unique structure. Adults: $8. Children 6-12: $4. Children 5 and under: free. Rent a movie: Redbox movie kiosks have been popping up all over central Ohio. Find a location near you by visiting redbox.com. $1 per day. Playground program through Columbus Parks and Recreation: Visit http://recparks.columbus.gov/ reccenters/index.asp to find one of 49 neighborhood playgrounds. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it. Free.
Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus.