10 Ways to Stay Positive During a Rough Economy
What a month it has been for the U.S. economy: a debt ceiling crisis, a credit rating downgrade, political gridlock, ultra-volatile stock market and saddening unemployment. While economists say we’re not headed towards another 2008-like recession, the thought of a full economic recovery is slipping away, making it nearly impossible to feel optimistic about your financial situation.
During times of financial calamity, how can you stay positive and calm? After all, most economic conditions are beyond your control. MainStreet asked experts to weigh in on how consumers can put all of this scary and pessimistic economic news behind them.
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Get in the Know
You may be worrying for nothing. Unless you know exactly how much you spend each month, all of the interest rates on your credit cards, mortgage, auto loans and the exact amount of money in your bank and retirement accounts, you don’t know anything about your finances. First, you need to write down all of this information. This way, you can visually see what areas of your financial situation need help and what parts are doing well. Maybe you don’t have credit card debt, but you don’t have an emergency savings fund. Or, perhaps you’re saving a lot of money for retirement, but credit card debt is holding you back. Get in the know about your money so you can sleep easier at night.
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Your Action Plan
It is easy to worry about money, but without a clear action plan, the fear and anguish about your finances may prevent you from moving forward. Having goals is a cliché, but it is critical. Where do you want to be financially in one year or two years? Do you plan to retire in five years? If so, how will you be able to live the same lifestyle as now during retirement? Once you’ve assembled your goals, write down three steps to how you’ll achieve these ambitions.
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Stock Market Woes
If you constantly refresh your computer screen to get the latest reading on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, perhaps you should reconsider your investments.
“Investors ought to be comfortable with the volatility or they shouldn't be in stocks at all. Otherwise, it gets them going down the path of doing something foolish. Madoff's scam existed because it satisfied an impossible itch - to make money, all the time, regardless of what markets were doing,” says Chris Mayer, author of Invest Like a Dealmaker: Secrets from a Former Banking Insider.
The stock market is for long-term investing – so you shouldn’t be too worried about the day-to-day operation of the market, assuming you don’t need the money you have tied up in stocks for at least 10-20 years.
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Get Professional Help
If you’re not well versed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investment vehicles, many times it helps to have a financial adviser (not a financial “salesperson”) on your side to help you navigate the complex world of investing.
According to Harlan Platt, professor of finance of Northeastern University, “Find someone else to do the investing/worrying for you. This usually means with a mutual fund company or possibly with a financial advisor.”
Check out MainStreet’s recent look at how to select the right financial adviser.
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Don’t just consider current stock prices or where analysts expect the market to be in the future. As the saying goes, history repeats itself – knowing the past patterns of the markets can help to assuage the pain if your portfolio is performing poorly.
“Anytime the market has been volatile for a period with a bias towards the downside, it has always recovered. This time around will not be any different. Yes, there may be some structural changes in the market and certain opportunities will fare better than others, but as a whole the market will eventually rebound,” remarks Ryan Himmel, personal finance expert, CPA, and the founder of BIDaWIZ.com.
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Build Up an Emergency Fund
Market activity, to a certain extent, is beyond your control. However, you have complete control and discretion over your personal finances. And an emergency savings fund will help you get out of most any financial bind.
Instead of wasting time worrying about why the Dow was down 300 points, start thinking about how you’re going to save up money for the unexpected emergencies in life. Having liquid cash at your disposal is the best financial tip.
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Don't Believe What You Hear
You’re going to hear opinions and commentary from your relatives, in-laws, coworkers, neighbors, barber – everyone. People may even question why you have money invested in the volatile markets. Don’t feel pressured or intimidated by the opinions of others (unless of course it’s a financial adviser you trust). The fact is, the markets are extremely unpredictable and no one has a crystal ball. Use your judgment, do research, consult a financial adviser and make the decision that you feel comfortable with.
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Use Your Support Network
While your close friends and family may offer opinions, this doesn’t mean you should totally dismiss what they have to say. It’s important to be honest and open with family – chances are your brother and sister lost money in the market too. Don’t keep financial secrets, especially between you and your spouse.
You and your family must work together as one unit to dig yourselves out of the financial hole – whether that’s a job loss, health emergency or down stock portfolio. Family support will reduce stress and help you remain optimistic.
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Write it Down
One common way to cope with stressful situations, like a rough economy, is to keep a diary and write down thoughts in a notebook.
Srini Pillay, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, agrees: “As much as the reality is that the world is very volatile right now, to protect your brain, you must carve out time to attend to other things. Keeping a diary of positive things can go a long way.”
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Eat for Your Brain
Financial stress can take a huge toll on your health – stress is terrible for your body and mental state of mind. That’s why you want to maintain a strict exercise routine, eat healthy and watch your weight. The potato chips and cake can easily be a way to escape financial stress – but that’s certainly not a healthy way.
-Scott Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.
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