A little monetary momentum

How does a month off sound? You could finally clean out the garage. Spend an afternoon making paella. Pick up your daughter from ballet.

Oh, by the way, your paycheck will be going on hiatus, along with your work. Still intrigued?

A fair number of workers are - a fact that meshes nicely with a cost-cutting measure being implemented at a growing number of firms.

Driven to cut operating costs, companies are taking a tough look at the sizes of their staffs. Plenty just lower the ax, adding to the rolling wave of layoffs.

Some request that time earned be taken, with pay, so that they won't have to carry over the time - a "funded liability" for another year.

Others ask - or tell - employees to step off the payroll while the company scrapes across the sandbar of fiscal woe. "Help lighten the load," the offer goes, "and we'll pull you back aboard when we can."

Even after footing the bill for continuous benefits, such firms can sometimes gain enough buoyancy to begin making headway again.

Executives can lead by example. Donald Carty, chief executive officer of American Airlines, gave up his salary for the last quarter of 2001. That reportedly cost him $200,000.

Still, how many rank-and-file workers can survive sitting out even a couple of pay periods? Consider the 21 million or so single-income couples in the US, trying to save for two retirements - while facing a monthly blizzard of bills.

An old axiom holds that we should all have three to six months of living expenses socked away risk-free (in accessible savings or money market accounts, for example, or Roth IRAs). Yet a recent Fidelity survey found 2 in 5 households lack such an emergency fund.

It might be time to plan one.

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