Q: What I know is that we will eventually have another recession. … So, I want to know how best to prepare my wife and myself for that storm. …. Other than continuing to perform well at our jobs, saving as much as possible (in a traditional savings account and through retirement in the market), and possibly looking at lowering our mortgage interest rate, is there anything else we should be thinking about?
A: You are in good financial shape. I do have one suggestion for you to think about, but first I want to use your question to urge readers to take the time to review their household finances.
As you wrote, the U.S. economy will sink into a recession at some point. But the volatility in the markets and concerns over the economic impact of trade and tariff wars signals that now is a good time to examine what risks lurk in household finances. You have time to prepare your finances for a downturn.
For most households, the No. 1 priority is paying down debt. I would see where you can cut back on spending to cut credit card, auto and home equity debts. I also like the risk-reducing tactic of refinancing to lower mortgage payments.
Another risk to investigate is vulnerability to a layoff. For example, a big risk for someone in their 50s is a layoff during a downturn. Experienced workers were less likely to lose their job than their younger peers in the last recession. But older adults spent more time out of work when laid off. A savvy precautionary step for workers of any age is to stay in contact with your network. People usually find their next job through their network, not with the online job boards.
What about retirement savings? For most workers, sticking with their current asset allocation is usually the best course, especially if you are in a target-date fund. For those nearing retirement or early in retirement, I would run the numbers and see whether it makes sense to lock up cash in safe savings to pay necessary bills for a year or two if needed.
Columns like this on preparing for a downturn emphasize protecting yourself from what might go wrong. But those with a healthy household balance sheets like Rich are in a position to take advantage of intriguing opportunities during a downturn. They have the financial ability to take risks that might improve their quality of everyday life. I would think about what kind of investments (in the broadest sense of the term) you might want to make if an intriguing opportunity presents itself.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.