Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.
While we can’t prevent the next pandemic, and there is not much we can do about war, inflation, the coming energy crunch, or the bouncing stock market, there are things you can do to improve your own financial situation — even with all the new uncertainties.
Improve your financial well-being today and for the future. Here are several financial well-being tips that you can use, no matter what is going on in the world.
1. Don’t Worry (Too Much) About Today’s Retirement Account Balances
Whatever your account balances say now, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have to withdraw the money.
The stock market goes up and down in the short term. Over the long haul, it has historically done nothing but go up. Even in a worst-case one-year, two-year, five-year or longer contraction of the economy will eventually rebound assuming that history holds true.
There is no reason to sell if you don’t need the money. You will only be taking the losses. The losses are not a sure thing, not at all a reality, unless you sell.
- If you need funds to make ends meet now, review 11 of the best (and worst) sources of emergency money to discover the most financially efficient ways to bridge in a crisis.
- If you will need those funds within the next five years, it is time to do some planning and make adjustments. At this stage, it is important to have plans A, B, and C for your finances. (Covered later.)
2. Assess Your Short-Term Financial Health
A financial wellness tip is to focus on what you can control now. Financial uncertainty can feel overwhelming. And absolutely no one knows what is going to happen to our economy. But you can assess how you are doing today.
How is your cash flow?
Spending more? Inflation is real. You definitely see it at the gas station, and probably the grocery store too. Now is a good time to really look at your spending and make some cuts if necessary.
Can you increase your income? The job market is strong. If you are still working, now may be a good time to ask for a raise or even shift jobs.
Can you keep saving and investing? When times get tough, savings habits often fall by the wayside. However, times when the stock market is down are the best times to save and invest.
Do you need access to cash or income now? Assess the best (and worst) sources of emergency money and income.
3. Remember — Things Won’t Stay Bad
The pandemic was without precedent, and the war with Ukraine is pitting a nuclear power, Russia, against the Western world, not something we have faced in the last 30 years. But, what a 30-year period it has been.
The pace at which we live and innovate is unprecedentedly fast. Any financial losses may be quickly regained. It was argued that we would be in a much worse position as we emerged from the pandemic, but we aren’t. The stock and real estate markets stayed remarkably robust through that crisis.
Is recent past performance an indicator of future success? Nope. Maybe? We don’t know. However, it is important to remember that over the long haul, the financial markets have always gone up.
4. Plan for Worst Case Scenarios: Make a Plan A, B, C (Maybe Even D, E and F)
In the absence of being able to tell the future, it is important that you run worst case scenarios and create plans AND backup plans for your current and future finances. Facing the worst possible scenario is one proven way to overcome anxiety. In most cases, you’ll find that the worst case either isn’t that bad or it can be addressed.
Don’t just worry about what is going to happen to your finances, run scenarios and find out. No matter what, in all possible eventualities, you will probably find that you can make things be okay.
Here are a few worst-case scenarios (and some opportunities) to try in the NewRetirement Planner.
- Enter your account balances as they stand today. Are your long-term plans still solvent?
- Okay, be brave, and see what your long-term plans look like if you model a large short-term loss. What if your portfolio drops by 25%. Will you be okay?
- Try different rates of return. Remember, the important thing is your overall lifetime returns, not what happens day to day, month to month or year to year. We will likely see wild swings in the markets, but that will net out to some average for your lifetime.
- Try bucketing your savings into what you need in the short term, midterm and long term and apply different rates of return for each bucket of money.
- Have access to cash? What happens if you invest it now? (Or, is it better to reserve that cash for the current situation since it will be of an unknown duration?)
- Can you keep pace with socking away retirement savings? What happens if you stop making these contributions?
Try adjusting your general inflation rates.
- Adding passive income streams to your plans
- Adjusting your need for withdrawals from savings by reducing your spending
- Playing with different withdrawal strategies
- Guaranteeing your income. What about a lifetime annuity? Use an annuity calculator or model an annuity in the NewRetirement Planner.
- You can model a lower interest rate on your debt in the NewRetirement Planner to see the impact on your finances.
- Set spending levels in over 70 different categories.
- Apply “must spend” and “nice to spend” levels.
- Alter individual costs over time.
Make sure all of your documents are up to date: your will, letters of instruction, financial power of attorney, living trust, medical power of attorney, living will, and all beneficiary designations on accounts.
5. Review or Develop an Investment Policy Statement
You probably know that you need a well-diversified asset allocation plan.
However, most people are not as familiar with the idea of an Investment Policy Statement (IPS).
An IPS is meant to define:
- Investment goals
- Strategies for achieving those objectives
- A framework for making intelligent changes to your plan
- Options for what to do if things don’t go as expected
A strong IPS can be an invaluable tool for helping you achieve your financial objectives and to stay the course when unpredictable things happen.
6. Upgrade Your Stock Portfolio
When the entire market goes down, one strategy that can pay off big is to improve the mix of stocks that you own.
Perhaps you own some “lower-quality” stocks or funds — you could potentially sell those holdings and buy into companies of higher quality and better long-term prospects.
Look to sell companies with high fixed costs or lots of debt and buy stocks with high levels of growth, cash-rich balance sheets, and good returns.
Of course, you need may some expertise to do this effectively.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet once said:
“What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses. You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”
It is a good idea to know something about the companies whose stock you own and to really believe in them. You will be less likely to panic and sell in a major downturn if you actually understand what the company does and know enough about the industry to project whether or not there will be a market for whatever the company makes in the future.
Don’t have the expertise yourself? Talk with a certified financial adviser.
7. Do a Roth Conversion, Reduce Tax Burden
If you have been considering a Roth conversion, doing the transfer when the market is down means that you’ll pay income taxes on a lower portfolio value.
And, when the market bounces back, you will benefit from future tax-free growth and withdrawals from the Roth account.
A few things to keep in mind:
- A Roth conversion is a permanent move. It used to be you could undo the conversion, but the Secure Act of 2019 changed that.
- You’ll want to make sure that the conversion doesn’t raise your Medicare Part B and Part D premiums in future years.
- Be sure you are careful to follow all conversion rules and reinvest while the market is down.
- Most importantly, make sure you have the money available to pay the taxes owed on the conversion — ideally not from the account you are converting, which reduces the efficiency of the conversion.
8. Keep Up Regular Savings Contributions, and Consider Buying With Available Cash
If possible, keep up with your regular savings contributions. And, if you have cash available, consider buying. The time to buy into the markets is when they are down.
You don’t have to time the exact bottom. When the market is sliding, many people buy a little bit every day and keep buying every time the market dips.
The advantage of this strategy is that you are more likely to get in before things rocket back up.
You see, the reality is that stocks typically soar back upward well before the crisis that provoked the selloff has run its course. The market recovery from the 2008-09 financial crisis illustrates this vividly:
- Despite assurances from the pundits that investors should not expect a V-shaped recovery, stocks did exactly that.
- From the market low in March 2009, the Dow Jones index gained 30% in the span of just three months.
- By the end of the year, it was up more than 60% from its low point. All of this occurred despite fear continuing to grip the market and the widespread belief that stocks were experiencing a false recovery and would fall below their March lows in short order.
- Investors who were still waiting for the “all clear” signal to get back into stocks instead saw stocks leave them in the dust.
9. Be Very Cautious With Any Big Financial Moves
For the vast majority of investors, especially those who have a long-term investment strategy, doing nothing when stock markets go down is the best policy.
The stock market goes up and down in the short term. Over the long haul, it has historically done nothing but go up. Even a worst-case one- or two-year contraction of the economy will likely eventually rebound.
So, most of the time, it is important to remain calm, don’t let emotions or stress take over, and just do nothing. Ignore it.
10. Do What You Can to Control General Worry, Anxiety and Stress
Depending on your personality and the news of the day, controlling worry is a tall order. The following tips might not help with financial anxiety, but they are sure to make you feel better overall.
Limit Media Exposure:
Being informed is critical, but curling up with your phone or laptop all day and endlessly scrolling is not healthy or useful. Experts suggest you set a limit for how much time you spend consuming information each day and stick to it.
Practice Four-Count Breathing:
I used to think that breathing exercises were baloney until a doctor explained to me that you can trick your body into relaxing by mimicking the way a healthy body inhales and exhales when it’s actually relaxed. A good basic breathing exercise is to 1) inhale for four seconds, 2) hold breath for four seconds and then 3) exhale for four seconds. Repeat and feel your body relax.
If Using Social Media, Engage:
Research shows that people who use social media actively — by sending messages, leaving comments, or talking in group chats, for example — report being happier than those who simply scroll through their feeds, absorbing news stories and viral videos.
There are lots of online programs to help you learn.
Maintain a Schedule:
There is a meme going around, of a woman joking that she goes out to her driveway to sit in her car for 30 minutes every day, not going anywhere. It’s almost as if it were her morning commute. Maybe you are not going to maintain the schedule you had last week, but do try to organize your day.
Spend a couple of minutes every day writing about what worries you. There is mounting evidence that keeping a journal provides a host of emotional and health benefits, including reducing anxiety.
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