Even just talk of a possible recession can trigger anxiety for anyone who associates it with the major economic downturn of a dozen years ago. But history doesn’t always repeat itself.
“The financial crisis in 2008 was basically the second-worst recession ever after the Great Depression in the last hundred years; it doesn’t always have to be like that,” says Luke Delorme, director of financial planning at American Investment Services. “There are relatively mild recessions that aren’t so impactful.”
Recessions — and their severity — are out of your control, but as Delorme and others point out, your own financial situation doesn’t have to be. You can take steps to insulate yourself from an economic downturn. And if circumstances align in your favor, you may even thrive.
It’s impossible to know for sure whether a recession is on the horizon, Delorme notes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared, though.
Tanja Hester and her husband, Mark Bunge, were among the lucky ones during the financial crisis. In 2008, the California residents were political consultants, and their jobs remained intact, meaning they were spared many of the setbacks others experienced. Still, they readied for the worst, making sure they’d be well-equipped to tackle their goals.
“It felt like a time to batten down the hatches and get things in order, so we were definitely ramping up our savings at that point,” says Hester, author of “Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way.”
As a result of their planning, they were able to achieve milestones such as paying down debt, building up an emergency fund and even buying a condo, despite the economic turmoil around them.
Whether your own job is secure or unpredictable, there are ways to better position yourself for tough economic times.
Tackle Credit and Debt
One key is to build or maintain good credit. Creditors may tighten lending during a recession, but a good credit score (690 or higher) can open doors to lower rates. Several factors play into your scores, but two of the biggest include a history of on-time payments and a low credit utilization; the less of your credit limit you use, the better.
If you have no credit or bad credit (629 and below), consider a secured credit card that reports to all three major credit bureaus. Such cards require an upfront security deposit that’s refunded upon closing or upgrading the account.
Debt, budgeting and savings are all big factors that Delorme cites, as well. Tackle them now when times are relatively good.
Hester, for example, says that by early 2008, she had erased about $30,000 in debt with money from her full-time income and side hustles as a spin and yoga instructor. Another way to zap debt is by transferring it from a high-interest credit card to one with a lower APR. Look for a balance transfer credit card with no annual fee and a long 0% introductory APR.
Make a Budget
When it comes to expenses, consider this budgeting approach: Allocate 50% of your after-tax income for essentials like rent and groceries, 30% for wants, and 20% for debt and savings. If you need help with such tracking, your monthly credit card statement can be a tool.
Also, try thinking of your money in terms of buckets and assign each one a purpose, says Sophia Bera, certified financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning. Creating separate buckets for an emergency fund, retirement savings and a travel fund can help you earmark amounts for each goal.
As for bulking up your savings, “found money” can come from a variety of sources — side gigs, credit card rewards, even yard sales. But an easy way to get started is by setting up automatic deposits or transfers to a high-yield savings account. The automated process helped Hester and Bunge save an eight-month emergency fund and the down payment for their first home, making it possible to buy a condo in Los Angeles in 2009. Prices were down, and “We were able to buy when others weren’t,” Hester says.
And don’t forget 401(k) or IRA contributions. Saving 10% to 15% of pretax income is ideal, but start where you can and contribute enough to grab any employer match. “Let’s say if you put in 4%, they’ll put in 4%,” Bera says. “You should at least be doing that, because if not, you’re leaving free money on the table.”
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