9 Ways to Brace Your Finances for a Recession

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Man looking at stock charts and worrying about recession
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We live in turbulent times. From the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to the war in Ukraine, America and the rest of the world are fighting some nasty headwinds.

The economy has not escaped this chaos unscathed. While the National Bureau of Economic Research — the body charged with declaring when recessions are official — has not declared one, both Wall Street and most small-business owners expect one this year, according to CNBC:

“A survey earlier this week from CNBC found that more than half of economists and investment professionals expect the Fed to fail in its mission to engineer a ‘soft landing’ for the economy. […] Eight in ten small-business owners expect a recession to occur this year.”

Whatever comes next, don’t let events panic you into making emotional decisions about your investments. Still, it is wise to ready your finances in case this downturn deepens. Here is how to get started today.

1. Review your expenses

Shocked woman using a calculator
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This is the time to take a close look at your spending. Where is your money going each month? Go item by item through your budget.

“Figure out what is a need and what is a want, (and) reduce wants,” says Chris Chen, a certified financial planner at Insight Financial Strategists in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Cutting back on wants can help to free up cash for emergency savings that may be needed during the recession.

If you aren’t budgeting, or aren’t at least tracking your spending, now is a good time to start. A software program like Money Talks News partner YNAB (You Need A Budget) can help make such tasks manageable.

2. Lower your dependency rate

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How much of your regular income goes out as fast as it comes in?

Carmel, Indiana-based financial adviser Peter Dunn urges you to reduce what he calls your “dependency rate” — how dependent you are on your regular income.

Dunn says that if you spend 95% of your income on a regular basis, your dependency rate is 95%, meaning that 95 cents of every dollar coming into your household is vitally important to your solvency — or so you think.

In his column in the Indianapolis Star, Dunn writes:

“Your goal is to decrease your rate over time, even in the face of pay increases.”

Again, software can help with this. YNAB (You Need A Budget), for example, automatically creates reports that detail how much money you earn and spend each month.

3. Pay down debt

Stressed man considering his credit card debt
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It is time to revisit those little plastic cards. Make a plan right now for paying down your high-interest credit card debt. Reducing credit card debt will do wonders for your budget, freeing up cash you may need soon.

Seize the moment to pay down loans, too, if you can.

For help getting started, check out “How to Destroy Your Debt and 3 Things to Do Next.”

4. Beef up an emergency fund

Emergency fund
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Bolster your emergency savings. In good times, it’s wise to save enough to cover your living expenses for at least three to six months. With the arrival of a new recession, your goal should be six to 12 months’ worth.

Haven’t created an emergency fund? Start now. A small fund that’s growing is better than none at all. For pointers, check out “9 Tips for Starting an Emergency Fund Today.”

5. Decide where to stash cash

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Wondering where to stash your emergency cash? If you leave it in your checking account, it will be insured and liquid, but it won’t generate any interest.

So, look into savings accounts and consider certificates of deposit (CDs).

Online banks can be a good bet for both, as they tend to have lower operating expenses than brick-and-mortar banks and so may pay higher interest rates.

For example, CIT Bank's Savings Builder Account, a high-yield savings account, is currently paying up to 0.45%. You can get a slightly higher rate on CIT Bank CDs.

6. Add new streams of income

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Even if your job is stable, additional income enables you to pay down debts and build savings faster. And it adds a safety net in case your day job is endangered.

Options can range from traditional part-time jobs to entrepreneurial side jobs. Online gigs are especially good right now if you want to avoid unnecessary exposure to the public.

For ideas and inspiration, see “7 Creative Passive Income Ideas That Don’t Involve Investing.”

7. Consider a home equity line of credit

house of cash
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Homeowners have a cushion of cash in their home equity.

Unless you sell the home, drawing on your equity is not free. But it’s there if you find yourself in a true emergency.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is not, however, a safe strategy for skipping the safer measures we’ve already outlined. There are arguments against and for HELOCs. Much depends on your situation:

  • Worst case: HELOCs can be risky. Don’t get one, for example, if you tend to spend more when you know you have plenty of credit on tap. Also, these loans can be expensive, both to obtain (fees) and to repay (high interest rates).
  • Best case: Do consider a HELOC if you like the idea of having a last-ditch source of emergency funds and you have a safe, realistic plan for repaying the debt.

To have a HELOC in place when you need it, you’ll need to apply now. One option: Money Talks News partner Figure offers home equity lines of credit.

8. Keep funding your retirement

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Scaling back on building your retirement nest egg is a bad idea. Picture your future self needing that money. Don’t scale back if you can help it, even to free up funds to deal with the fallout of a recession.

Maybe an extra source of income or some penny-pinching can help you meet expenses without short-changing your retirement.

If you need help with your retirement planning, check out the Money Talks News’ course The Only Retirement Guide You’ll Ever Need.”

9. Make backups for your backups

Stressed retiree doing budgeting and paying bills
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Well-prepared people have backup plans, and then they make backups for those backup plans.

Start by picturing worst-case scenarios — not to cause worry, but to build plans so you can worry less. Here are some questions to get you going:

  • What exactly will I do if I lose my job or income stream?
  • What fallbacks are in place if we must sell our home or can’t pay the rent? Which options are realistic?
  • How could it work if we moved in with our parents or our grown kids — or had them live with us?
  • Which pieces of property, vehicles and other assets could I realistically sell for cash?

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