Recession Rules: Do’s And Don’ts

Just the word “recession” triggers the fear response. But moving from fear to action can help investors ride out economic uncertainty.


Technically we’re not in a recession. Still, stock markets are correcting, and economic uncertainty is rising.

It’s time to get tough with your finances. Then you can ride any economic waves, cutting back when prudent and dropping in on opportunities if conditions improve.

Expert financial planners are helping clients manage the possible coming storm with “dos and “don’ts” to build financial fortitude.

Recession Do’s

hold cash: It’s always best to start with the positives. “Control the things you can control,” said Martin Schamis, Janney Montgomery Scott’s head of Wealth Planning in Philadelphia. Schamis and other experts say it’s critical you have adequate emergency funds.

How much? Retirees should have enough cash to cover two years of expenses. If you’re still working, perhaps a bit less. “Then you can absorb these kinds of pullbacks,” said Joseph Eschleman, president of Towerpoint Wealth in Sacramento, Calif.

“Cash adds ‘Bubble Wrap’ to your portfolio,” he said. And having cash handy is vital during a recession in case of a job loss or other reduction in income. And as rates rise your cash will earn more money in a savings account.

Debt reduction: If you have high interest debt, pay it down if you can. But don’t tap your emergency fund. “Pay off a 5% loan and that’s a 5% gain for you,” Schamis said.

Ironically, also consider setting up more credit.

“If you don’t have a home equity line of credit you might want to go get one,” said Anthony Watson, founder and president of Thrive Retirement Specialists in Dearborn, Mich. A job loss may make it impossible to get a home loan. “With a line of credit, you don’t pay for it unless you use it,” he said.

keep investing: This “do” is confusing. As we’ve all been schooled, you can’t time the markets. No one knows when they’ll rebound. Still, you’ll want to keep contributing to your retirement fund, as well as be ready for any upturn.

A good way to do that is emphasizing top-quality, diversified index funds. Watson calls it “owning everything.”

“I like to use Vanguard Total Market Index Fund ETF (VTI), he said. In a down period, “some boats will go under, but (in a diversified fund) if I lose a couple of boats I don’t really feel it.”

rebalance: Eschleman suggests taking a hard look at your portfolio. Rebalance to diversify.

“Commodities, precious metals, timber, commercial real estate, are less affected by market volatility,” he said. Investing in foreign funds and currencies may be another good hedge.

What about bonds? Low interest rates have made bonds unattractive for the past few years. But as the Federal Reserve raises rates, it may soon be time to reconsider high-quality bonds. “Bonds aren’t meant to be a growth portion of your portfolio,” Schamis said. “They’re meant to be a shock absorber.”


Don’t let emotions run wild: “As humans, we’re hard-wired to be emotional,” Eschleman said. “But you can’t let emotions dictate financial decisions.”

Still, keep tabs on your portfolio. “Don’t check it every day, but don’t be completely ignorant,” he said.

Don’t panic sell. Selling the wrong asset at the wrong time, just to generate cash, may haunt you later. “A lot of high-quality, blue chip stocks and funds are down, but that doesn’t mean you should punt them,” Eschleman said.

Don’t buy expensive durable items: Restrain yourself. “Put off purchasing any big-ticket items,” Watson said. Also, track your spending and perhaps trim some expenses.

It’s foolish to spend now with high prices and inflation. “You could get those items cheaper when the economy does goes into recession,” Watson said.


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