Are you worried about how a recession might affect you? You can put your fears to rest because there are many everyday habits the average person can implement to ease the sting of a recession, or even make it so its effects aren't felt at all. In this article, we'll discuss seven ways to do just that.
No. 1: Have an Emergency Fund
If you have plenty of cash lying around in a high-interest, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured account, not only will your money retain its full value in times of market turmoil, it will also be extremely liquid, giving you easy access to funds if you lose your job or are forced to take a pay cut. Also, if you have your own cash, it won't be an issue if other sources of backup funds dry up, such as a home equity line of credit. (For related reading, see Are Your Bank Deposits Insured? and Bank Failure: Will Your Assets Be Protected?)
No. 2: Always Live Within Your Means
If you make it a habit to live within your means each and every day, you are less likely to go into consumer debt when gas or food prices go up and more likely to adjust your spending in other areas to compensate. Debt begets more debt when you can't pay it off right away - if you think gas prices are high, wait until you're paying 29.99% annual percentage rate (APR) on them. (Learn how to stick to your budget every day in Squeeze A Greenback Out Of Your Latte and Nine Reasons To Say "No" To Credit.)
To take this principle to the next level, if you have a spouse and are a two-income family, see how close you can get to living off of only one spouse's income. In good times, this tactic will allow you to save incredible amounts of money - how quickly could you pay off your mortgage or how much earlier could you retire if you had an extra $40,000 a year to save? In bad times, if one spouse gets laid off, you'll be OK because you'll already be used to living on one income. Your savings habits will stop temporarily, but your day-to-day spending can continue as normal.
No. 3: Have More Than One Source of Income
Even if you have a great full-time job, it's not a bad idea to have a source of extra income on the side, whether it's some consulting work or selling collectibles on eBay. With job security so nonexistent these days, more jobs mean more job security. If you lose one, at least you still have the other one. You may not be making as much money as you were before, but every little bit helps.
No. 4: Have a Long-Term Mindset With Investments
So what if a drop in the market brings your investments down 15%? If you don't sell, you won't lose anything. The market is cyclical, and in the long run, you'll have plenty of opportunities to sell high. In fact, if you buy when the market's down, you might thank yourself later. (To learn more, read The 3 Most Timeless Investment Principles, Four Tips For Picking Stocks In A Recession and Market Bottom: Are We There Yet?)
That being said, as you near retirement age, you should make sure you have enough money in liquid, low-risk investments to retire on time and give the stock portion of your portfolio time to recover. Remember, you don't need all of your retirement money at 65 - just a portion of it. The market might be tanking when you're 65, but it might be headed to Pamplona by the time you're 70.
No. 5: Be Honest About Your Risk Tolerance
Yes, investing gurus say that people in certain age brackets should have their portfolios allocated a certain way, but if you can't sleep at night when your investments are down 15% for the year and the year isn't even over, you may need to change your asset allocation. Investments are supposed to provide you with a sense of financial security, not a sense of panic.
But wait - don't sell anything while the market is down, or you'll set those paper losses in stone. When market conditions improve is the time to trade in some of your stocks for bonds, or trade in some of your risky small-cap stocks for less volatile blue-chip stocks. If you have extra cash available and want to adjust your asset allocation while the market is down, however, you may be able to profit from infusing money into temporarily low-priced stocks with long-term value.
The biggest risk is that overestimating your risk tolerance will cause you to make poor investment decisions. Even if you're at an age where you're "supposed to" have 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds, you'll never see the returns that investment advisors intend if you sell when the market is down. These asset allocation suggestions are meant for people who can hang on for the ride.
No. 6: Diversify Your Investments
If you don't have all of your money in one place, your paper losses should be mitigated, making it less difficult emotionally to ride out the dips in the market. If you own a home and have a savings account, you've already got a start: you have some money in real estate and some money in cash. In particular, try to build a portfolio of investment pairs that aren't strongly correlated, meaning that when one is up, the other is down, and vice versa (like stocks and bonds). (Read more about this important investing strategy in Introduction To Diversification, The Importance Of Diversification and Diversification Beyond Equities.)
No. 7: Keep Your Credit Score High
When credit markets tighten, if anyone is going to get approved for a mortgage, credit card or other type of loan, it will be those with excellent credit. Things like paying your bills on time, keeping your oldest credit cards open, and keeping your ratio of debt to available credit low will help keep your credit score high. (To learn more about your credit score, see Five Keys To Unlocking A Better Credit Score and The Importance Of Your Credit Rating.)
The best part about these habits is that they won't only serve you well during times of recession - they'll serve you well no matter what's going on in the market. But if you implement these financial strategies, a recession is less likely to have a significant effect on your financial situation.