How to Prepare for a Recession: The Do’s and Don’ts

ELIZABETH S. | July 24, 2023

The possibility of a recession has been a subject of extensive debate among politicians, economists, and financial professionals for quite some time. While the commonly accepted definition of a recession involves two consecutive quarters of negative GDP, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) adopts a broader perspective. According to the NBER, a recession signifies a significant decline in economic activity that spans various sectors and lasts for an extended period. 

By this definition, the U.S. did not experience a recession in 2022, and it is not currently in one today. However, given the ongoing economic uncertainties, it is prudent for individuals to be prepared for potential downturns. This article provides practical guidance on preparing for a recession, specifically tailored to those concerned about the U.S. facing such circumstances.

How to Prepare for a Recession

Coins being stacked to represent a recession

Preparing for a recession is of paramount importance, particularly when it comes to safeguarding personal finances. A recession can profoundly impact individuals and households, including the loss of jobs, reduced income, and increased financial stress. Individuals can significantly minimize the potential negative consequences by taking proactive steps to mitigate risks and prepare for economic downturns. 

Building an emergency fund, reducing debt, diversifying income streams, and adopting a frugal or minimalist mindset are effective strategies to weather the storm. Being proactive and prepared allows individuals to maintain financial stability, protect their assets, and navigate challenging times with resilience and confidence.

Understanding a Recession and Its Effects

A recession, as defined by Investopedia, is a significant, pervasive, and enduring decline in economic activity. Its duration is measured from the peak of the prior expansion to the trough of the downturn. While recessions can vary in length, the recovery to pre-recession levels can take years. The consequences of a recession can have far-reaching impacts on various aspects of individuals' financial lives. 

Here are some potential effects to consider:

  • Employment - One of the prominent effects is the rise in unemployment rates, as businesses face financial constraints and downsizing becomes common. This leads to job losses across various industries, affecting workers from different sectors. Additionally, individuals may experience reduced job security, making it more challenging to maintain stable employment, and finding new job opportunities becomes more difficult in a shrinking job market.
  • Income - Individuals often experience decreased wages and salary cuts, reducing income. Moreover, the limited job opportunities available during this period can significantly impact income potential, further exacerbating the financial strain on individuals.
  • Investments - Stock markets and investment portfolios tend to experience declines, negatively impacting investors' wealth. The value of real estate and other assets can also decrease, posing challenges for individuals who rely on these assets for financial stability.
  • Consumer spending - Individuals often face reduced purchasing power and are forced to cut back on discretionary spending. This leads to increased savings and a shift towards more cautious consumption habits as people prioritize financial stability and essential needs.

Building a Strong Financial Foundation 

Recession preparedness strategies play a pivotal role in preparing for a recession, and building a strong financial foundation is a key component to withstand economic downturns. By implementing effective budgeting, saving, and debt reduction practices, individuals can fortify their financial resilience and navigate challenging times more confidently.

  • Budget - A family budget is crucial for establishing a solid financial foundation. Start by tracking your expenses and identifying areas where you can make adjustments. Set realistic spending limits for various categories and prioritize essential needs. A well-planned budget allows you to have better control over your finances, save more effectively, and be prepared for unexpected expenses during economic downturns.
  • Save - Building an emergency fund is a vital step toward financial resilience. Aim to save at least three to six months of living expenses. A robust emergency savings cushion provides a safety net during income loss or unexpected financial challenges. It allows you to cover essential expenses and avoid relying on credit cards or loans, which can accumulate debt and financial stress.
  • Pay off your debt - Reduce and eliminate high-interest debt as much as possible. High debt levels can strain your finances during economic downturns when income may be limited. Utilize the avalanche approach to debt by prioritizing debts with the highest interest rates, such as credit card debt. Establish a debt repayment plan and make regular payments to reduce your debt burden steadily.

In addition to these three tips, diversifying your income sources is essential for financial stability. Explore opportunities to earn additional income through side hustles, freelance work, or investments. Diversifying your income helps to mitigate the impact of potential job losses or reduced income during a recession.

By following these steps - budgeting, saving, paying off debt, and diversifying income - you can establish a strong financial foundation that withstands economic downturns. This foundation protects you during challenging times and sets you toward long-term financial security and peace of mind.

A woman diversifying their income to mitigate the impact of potential job losses or reduced income during a recession

Budgeting and Cutting Expenses

Creating a recession-ready budget is essential for financial preparedness. One practical approach is to follow the 50/20/30 budget system as part of mastering your finances. This approach allocates 50% of your income to needs, 20% to savings, and 30% to wants. Assess your budget and make necessary changes if it is out of sync with these proportions. 

Prioritize essential expenses, such as housing, utilities, groceries, and healthcare, ensuring they fit within the allocated 50%. Look for cost-saving alternatives and negotiate bills to lower monthly expenses. 

Tracking your expenses diligently allows you to identify areas where you can cut back on discretionary spending and find additional ways to save money, ultimately strengthening your financial resilience during a recession. Many households use personalized spreadsheets to track monthly expenses and establish a historical record. This practice enables the calculation of average expenses, particularly for items prone to fluctuations, such as utility bills. Some recommended tools for budgeting include consumer.gov's Make a Budget worksheet, Microsoft Excel, Vertex42, and PocketGuard

Protecting and Diversifying Income 

Protecting and diversifying your income streams to enhance financial stability is vital during a recession. One effective approach is exploring passive income streams that generate earnings even during challenging times. Getting inspiration and ideas from articles like "Passive Side Hustles" on Millennial Money Man can provide valuable insights into potential passive income opportunities.

In addition, consider pursuing side hustles, freelancing, or developing additional skills that can broaden your earning potential. These endeavors can serve as alternative income sources, providing a buffer during economic downturns. By diversifying your income streams, you reduce the reliance on a single source of income and enhance your ability to weather financial uncertainties.

Managing Debt and Credit 

During a recession, managing debt becomes even more critical for financial stability. Prioritizing the repayment of high-interest debt with any extra cash is a commonly advised strategy by financial experts. You can save significantly in the long run by minimizing the total interest paid via reducing high-interest debt. Consider exploring refinancing options, such as installment loans offered by reputable lenders like CashStore, which can help consolidate debt and potentially secure more favorable terms.

In addition to managing debt, maintaining a good credit score and practicing responsible credit card usage are paramount. Your credit score is vital in securing favorable interest rates and accessing future credit opportunities. Familiarize yourself with credit score ranges and know that making timely and complete payments on your credit cards and loans is the most essential action to protect your credit score. Missing a payment and failing to make it up promptly can cause a significant drop of up to 180 points in your credit score. Finally, know where to find online loans for bad credit if you need one.

Investment Strategies During a Recession

When investing during a recession, it's essential to consider your risk tolerance and long-term financial goals. Diversifying portfolios across various asset classes and sectors is a prudent approach to mitigate risk. Defensive sectors, such as healthcare or consumer staples, often perform relatively well during economic downturns. 

Seeking professional advice from financial advisors or experts can provide valuable insights tailored to your situation. However, exercising caution and not making impulsive investment decisions based on short-term market fluctuations is crucial. Check out this list of do’s and don’ts to follow during a recession:

  • DO keep investing for retirement
  • DON’T panic sell your assets
  • DO keep your savings liquid
  • DON’T take on high-interest debt 
  • DO reduce spending
  • DON’T make big purchases
  • DO build your emergency fund

Preparing for Job Loss and Career Resilience 

As part of recession preparedness strategies, preparing for potential job loss during uncertain economic times is crucial. Take proactive steps such as networking, upskilling, and ensuring your resume and LinkedIn profile are current. Regularly updating your resume lets you capture your latest accomplishments and skills, making it easier to respond to job opportunities quickly.

Maintaining a mindset of adaptability is key. Explore new career opportunities and stay open to hearing about new job prospects. By being receptive to these opportunities, you can stay informed about the latest trends in your industry. Technological advancements often create new job roles that require skilled individuals, and being adaptable and willing to explore these new avenues can enhance your career resilience.

In preparing for job loss during a recession, stay positive. Understanding the importance of being proactive, adaptable, and continuously investing in your professional growth can help you navigate career challenges and seize new opportunities. 

Taking Care of Emotional Well-Being

During a recession, you must prioritize your emotional and psychological well-being as you navigate the financial uncertainties. Taking care of your mental health can help build resilience and provide the strength to overcome challenges. 

Consider these tips to help you maintain your emotional well-being before, during, and after a recession:

  • Practice self-care - Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies.
  • Maintain a routine - Establishing a consistent daily routine can provide structure and a sense of normalcy during uncertain times.
  • Seek support - Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your concerns and seek emotional support.
  • Focus on gratitude - Cultivating a mindset of gratitude can help shift your focus towards positive aspects of your life, fostering resilience.
  • Limit news consumption - While staying informed is essential, excessive exposure to negative news can heighten anxiety. Set boundaries for news consumption to protect your mental well-being.
  • Seek professional help - If needed, consider seeking professional assistance from therapists or counselors who can provide guidance and support during challenging times.

Taking Proactive Steps: How to Prepare for a Recession

Preparing for a recession is crucial for safeguarding your financial well-being. By following the strategies discussed in this article, such as building a strong financial foundation, managing debt and credit, diversifying income, and prioritizing emotional well-being, you can enhance your resilience and minimize the impact of a recession. 

Remember to create a recession-ready budget, explore additional income opportunities, protect your credit score, and prioritize self-care. By taking proactive steps and adopting a preparedness mindset, you can navigate the uncertainties of a recession with greater confidence and emerge stronger on the other side. Start implementing these strategies today to fortify your financial future and ensure long-term stability.

*The content on this page provides general consumer information or tips. It is not financial advice or guidance. Each person’s circumstances are unique. The Cash Store may update this information periodically. This information may also include links or references to third-party resources or content. We do not endorse the third-party or guarantee the accuracy of this third-party information. There may be other resources that also serve your needs. 

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