Execution: If your paycheck unexpectedly stops, or a market crash reduces your income, face your new situation right away. If you wait, you may be chewing through savings that you're going to need, and perhaps running up credit card debt, too.
Slash expenses immediately, even for a child at college (he or she will need more loans). Look for work, including part-time, if your health is good. Of people 55 and older, 40.2 percent were in the workforce last year. That's the highest level in 35 years, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
Your toughest Plan B decision might be where to live. If you own a house that costs more than you can afford, and it's salable, sell it and become a renter instead. If you're already renting, look for something that costs less. Otherwise, you'll be destroying your savings for a property you might have to give up anyway.
If you leave a job with a lump-sum payment from a 401(k), roll it into an IRA so you won't owe any current tax (the same fund company that managed your 401(k) might be the lowest cost). Put two years' expenses into a money market fund, and withdraw only enough to pay bills. Anything left over should probably go into a high-grade bond mutual fund, until you get your future back on track.
Finally, prepare your mind for a different life. You can't control the stock market or the onset of disability, but you can control how you think about it. Fitting expenses to income, at any level, starts the journey to peace of mind.
Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert and author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW. She writes regularly for the Bulletin. Check out the archive.