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The rumblings about a recession began earlier this year, and economists now predict there's about a 50-50 chance of a recession this year or early next, thanks to the current rise in inflation. Fortunately, most experts are suggesting that this will likely be a mild recession—nothing like the 2008 Great Recession that wreaked havoc on many people's savings and careers.
But there are some money moves you might want to consider now to recession-proof your finances—and help you weather the uncertainty ahead.
Money Moves to Make Before a Recession
Pay off high-interest debt
If you have credit card debt, personal loans, or other high-interest debt, the first task is to pay that off as quickly as possible. "Those need to be addressed immediately and prioritized over savings," says Isabel Barrow, director of financial planning, at Edelman Financial Engines. "The rates on these are usually higher than what you can make on your cash, and the interest compounds. Think about it this way—if you lose your job but have no debts, you can always go back to the credit cards to get you through the rough patch."
Shore up your emergency fund
Once your high-interest debt is taken care of, bulk up your emergency fund. "During a recession, it's common for the unemployment rate to rise quickly, and it doesn't usually fall as fast during the recovery," Barrow says. "You need to ensure you are able to weather the storm in the event of any income disruption."
She recommends that her clients stash six months to two years' worth of income to cover themselves for recessions—but any amount you can stash away now will be helpful.
Reconsider big purchases
If you're still in the red-hot housing market, or hoping to upgrade your car, you may want to step back, especially if you have any concern about your job security.
"The level of demand is still very high for cars, houses, and travel, and the supply is very low," Barrow says. "If you don't necessarily need it now—don't buy it."
People who snatched up bargains in the last recession might be hoping to score a deal again—but they may be disappointed. Craig Birk, CFP, chief investment officer at Personal Capital, says that the prices won't drop as precipitously as people saw during the 2008 recession, thanks to the excellent credit most homeowners have. "Supply and demand should remain more balanced in this cycle," he says. "With higher mortgage rates and lower affordability, home prices may drop, but only moderately."
Manage Your Finances During a Recession
Review your monthly expenses
We all probably have a few spots where we could scale back on our spending—so review your bank and credit card statements to see where you might be able to save.
"Now is a great time to review the details of where your money goes," Barrow says. You can put the money you save toward cash reserves, or get a little more wiggle room in your budget in case your expenses go up—or your income goes down.
Assess your job security
While there have been a few reports of layoffs so far, the job market remains incredibly tight, with unemployment at just 3.6 percent. Consider how well your company is doing, and your own individual risk of a layoff.
If you're concerned about losing your job, now may be the time to update your LinkedIn account, and check in with people in your network to see if new opportunities are out there.
"The less secure your job is, the more you should be thinking about your backup plan now," Barrow says. "Are there other options for you to generate short-term income, either immediately, or in the event that you have a job loss or reduction?"
Don't cash in your investments
Most investors took a major hit in their 401k portfolios over the past few months, which can make cashing out or trading into more conservative investments seem like a smart idea. But experts say it's much better to stay the course.
Now is definitely not the time to convert your investments to cash. "While markets are likely to remain volatile and unpredictable, cash is all but guaranteed to lose value to inflation," Birk says. "Long-term cash should be invested toward long-term goals, especially with higher inflation eroding spending power."
And trading stocks that were solid performers in the past for more conservative choices will lock in your losses—and keep you from recouping those losses when the market rebounds. "Making more trades might give you a temporary sense of control, but it typically causes more harm than good," Barrow says. "You're likely just increasing your costs and taxes while decreasing your overall long-term performance."
Reconsider your retirement plans
If you're close to retirement (or actually retired), you might need to adjust your plans—either by stashing more money away for retirement, or being more frugal with the money you're spending. "Those considering early retirement may look more closely and consider adding to reserves," Birk says. "It's also worth reviewing existing retirement spending goals in light of higher prices."
Increase your retirement investments
It may seem a little scary to be putting more money into a volatile stock market, but as long as the money isn't something you need in the next few years, it pays to keep going.
"A recession or bear market is not likely to have a major impact on your long-term plans, but it does mean that you may be able to be opportunistic now," Barrow says. "We don't often have opportunities to buy low, as the market is up more often than down, so consider if this is an opportunity for you—as long as it doesn't mean you are taking a high risk or borrowing money to fund additional investments."