“Do not make changes that jeopardize your long-term financial security based on short-term economic events,” McBride says. “Even for someone who is on the cusp of retirement, retirement is going to last 25 to 30 years. A recession is going to last a year.”
6. Identify your risk tolerance
Still, it might not be a bad idea to work with a financial adviser on identifying your risk profile, Anastasio says. That includes identifying your risk tolerance — or how much risk you can afford to withstand — and your risk appetite — or the amount of risk you’re willing to take on.
Risk suitability is also another important factor, Anastasio says, a component that’s based on when someone plans on cashing out their investments. If you’re going to change your investing strategy at all, let it be based on this, she says.
“The sooner we expect someone to use the money, that’s where they’re going to need to be more conservative with their options: high-yield savings accounts, CDs,” Anastasio says. “On the other end of the spectrum, when we’re looking to invest for eight to 10 years or longer, that’s when it tends to be more appropriate to be invested in equities or stocks as a whole.”
7. Continue your education and build up skills
But to recession-proof your life, one of the best investments you can make is pursuing an education, says Tara Sinclair, an economics professor at George Washington University and a senior fellow at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. During recessions, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher is much lower than for those who have a high school education or less.
“Economists are always emphasizing the importance of education,” Sinclair says. “That’s something, even if you can’t build up a financial buffer, focusing on making sure that you have some training and skills that are broadly going to be employable is really crucial.”
Why predicting recessions is difficult
The novel coronavirus underscores just how difficult it is to predict what will cause that turning point. At the beginning of 2020, a rapidly spreading contagion wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
Even worse, information is often revised, updated and corrected. It’s released with a lag. Even so, developments shift rapidly. Fed officials, for example, pledged to keep interest rates steady through all of 2020. But they ended up slashing rates to near-zero at two emergency meetings, as the coronavirus devastated financial markets and the U.S. economy.
“Some people say economists exist to make weather forecasters look good,” Sinclair says. “The complexity of the macro economy is such that we haven’t yet figured out a clear, causal model of how things work. We can’t predict with any kind of confidence what’s going to happen, particularly when things are changing dramatically.”
Plan for the unexpected when it comes to the economy
Recessions are typically defined as a drop in output or a slowdown in growth. Though most economists would lump the two causes of recessions into supply shocks or demand shocks, each of the past 33 recessions (as tracked by the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee) have been caused by something a little different, Sinclair says.
“Obviously, if recessions were easily predictable and preventable, we’d expect policymakers to be doing just that,” Sinclair says. “If we think back to 2007, many people asked, ‘How did we not see it coming?’ But that’s the nature of recessions. They are these terrible things that we can’t predict.”
Even so, economies don’t always react to shocks in the same way. Markets panicked after the Fed in December hiked rates for the fourth time in 2018, fearing that too much monetary policy tightening would spur a downturn. The markets, however, bounced back in 2019, flirting with new highs.
After plunging in early 2020, the markets have since rebounded sharply, largely on hopes that the economy will surge after vaccines are widely distributed and fiscal stimulus filters through.
It’s hard to predict the future when you’re using the past as a guide, Sinclair says.
“Our economy is changing so dramatically,” according to Sinclair. “There’s many different sources that can lead to a recession, and it tends to be that when we look out for the next one, we’re looking for the same things that caused the recession rather than recognizing that there’s a new source.”
But you can take solace in the fact that economists are generally much better at knowing whether the U.S. economy is in a recession, Sinclair says. Even though predicting them is close to impossible, you won’t have to wait long before knowing that the U.S. economy is in one. That’s the case with what’s happening right now.
Downturns never come at a good time, but that was even more so with the coronavirus. Many Americans were already living paycheck-to-paycheck, while an October 2019 Bankrate survey found that 2 out of 5 Americans (or 40 percent) aren’t prepared for the next recession.
Regardless of whether the storm is on the horizon, it’s always a good time to make sure your financial portfolio is prepared, Anastasio says.
“I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to evaluate their finances and check in with themselves,” Anastasio says. “If someone personally feels nervous that there’s change on the horizon, it’s always a good time to say, ‘What can I do personally to put myself in a stronger financial position, so I can sleep better at night when the time comes.’”
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