julia-yarbough_new_web.jpgOverwhelming. Frightening. Depressing.

We hear those words quite often when folks talk about the state of the economy. I like to think of what lies ahead for all of us as a challenge. Several weeks ago, I announced I would be stepping down from my position with NBC6 after almost 22 years in the TV news business. It’s a big change.

As Americans, we talk a lot about freedom, but freedom means different things to different people. For many years, I have associated freedom with making very specific choices that would allow me to remain relatively debt free.

Working in the TV business teaches one that the security-rug of your world could be pulled out from under you at any moment. Thousands of jobs have recently been lost in the industry, and companies are downsizing, cutting back, and slashing salaries. Seeing the changes happening around me, I decided to prepare – just in case. Some of the steps I took apply to anyone in any industry.

I think it is critical that we all continue to learn new skills to keep ourselves competitive and relative. Take classes. Find out if your employer offers any tuition assistance or training programs. LEARN! The technological age is upon us. For us “middle-aged” folks who are resisting jumping on board, that choice may make you obsolete.

Another way to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead is to have your financial house in order. If you are living beyond your means and in debt, then you are a slave to work and at the mercy of your employer.

I think it’s a dangerous and stressful place to be. And I know. I spent the first ten years of my career in exactly that spot, and it was horrible! So, after digging myself out of debt, I vowed to learn everything I could about saving and investing.

Regardless of your income level, make choices that keep you in the driver’s seat. Case in point, I drove a ’99 Honda CRV until just this year. Oh sure, I was teased and prodded to upgrade, but I saved six years worth of car payments. That’s my definition of freedom.

And ladies, especially us single gals: Think twice before dropping serious cash on the latest designer clothes, shoes or handbags. All the years you’ve seen me on TV, most of my shopping took place at Sawgrass Mills and other off-the-beaten-path outlets.

Find places to cut back and save. Do you really need to eat out several nights a week? Is it critical to have a manicure and pedicure every week? Is a professional wash and wax for the car REALLY necessary for survival?

Little changes over time can add up to big savings, savings that one day just might buy you a little freedom if and when the time comes that you need it.

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough first made these remarks during a speech on Sept. 13 at the South Florida Black Journalists Association’s annual awards presentation at Florida Memorial University. Her last day at NBC6 was Tuesday, Oct. 6. To read the story about why she left the station, log onto SFLTimes.com.