Surviving a recession

I saw a link to a short story on Get Rich Slowly called What to do during a recession.

I think I can do a little better. So I’m gonna try.You might not lose your job, so don’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The story states that most people don’t lose their jobs when the economy goes south. That’s important to remember. I lost not one, but two jobs in 2005, not the worst year on record but certainly not the best for either of those two employers. I was pretty certain in both cases that there would be cuts and I would be one of them. I couldn’t do anything about the second case because an edict came down from a new CEO to get rid of all contractors, and I was a contractor. In the first case though, yes, I probably made myself a more likely target for downsizing. I wasn’t as bad as the guy in Office Space who got hit by a truck, but if management thinks you think you’re on your way out, they have an excuse to not feel as bad about letting you go. After all, if you saw it coming and you’re not prepared for it, it’s your fault if something bad happens, right?

So if you think you might be on the short list, don’t let anyone know you think that way, and be quiet and discrete about finding your next job.

Work your contacts. When I lost that job, I knew some people who’d asked me at one point or another if I might be interested in opportunities elsewhere. Of course I called them within 24 hours. None of that panned out for me, but at least I got some practice interviewing and some good resume advice out of the deal.

I think it’s a very good idea to ask your friends once a year or so if they know of any openings. In the event of an emergency, it gives you a much better idea of what might be out there.

Build an emergency fund, just in case. Having an emergency fund is also important. When I got hired on at my current job, my boss told me to try to have half a year’s salary in the bank. Some vote of confidence, huh? But the reality of our business model is that we can be forced to make cuts at any time, with no warning. It even happened to him once a few years ago. The upside is that the pay is pretty good and we get at least one or two opportunities to make some extra money each year, so we put up with it.

Six months’ salary can be hard to save, but you should have at least two, and more is better. Sometimes I can find a new job in less than two months, but I can think of two times in my career where my new employer dragged the hiring process out by a month. That was fine the first time it happened, because I still had my previous job, but it really stank the last time, because I’d been out of work a month.

Make a bare-bones budget. I also suggest having a bare-bones budget. Make up a spreadsheet listing the non-negotiable expenses that happen every month (mortgage or rent, car payment, utility bills, car insurance). Then figure the cheapest you can feed yourself for a day. I have a coworker who might try getting by on three packs of Ramen noodles and feed himself for 30 cents a day, but for most people, $3-$4 per day for food is about as low as they can go. Multiply that number by 30 and add that as a line item. Then add a few bucks for gas (it costs money to drive to the store and to job interviews too). It’s much easier to make a budget like this before you need it than when you need it.

You don’t necessarily need to kick into the emergency bare-bones budget the day you lose work, but I did. It helped my savings last longer.

Start saving money now. Knowing where to get things cheaper will help you build your emergency fund faster, and it will help you when you can’t afford to pay full price. Find out where the nearest day-old bakery is. If there’s a thrift store near you, wander into it sometime to see if it’s any good. If there’s a farmer’s market near you, check it out and compare its produce prices to your regular grocery store–and prepare for a pleasant surprise.

Don’t bail on your stocks. This might be the most important thing. When the stock market takes a dive, a lot of people hop on the phone and take their money out. Unless you own marginal stocks, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. You don’t need to know what to do with marginal stocks when a recession hits. If you own stock in companies that can’t survive a recession, you should sell them now and buy stock in companies that can. I had a relative who made himself rich by investing in boring companies like General Electric and Coca-Cola–companies that sell things that people buy no matter how much money they have–and holding those stocks for several decades.

That money vanished after a generation (and no, I don’t have any of it), but that’s another story.

There’s a financial cliche that poor people run to buy when stores have a sale, but when Wall Street has a sale, they rush to sell.

The thing to remember is that stock prices are purely theoretical unless you sell. So when they go down, you don’t lose anything. If the company still has decent products to sell, its price will rebound if only because vast heards of rich people will come in and buy more of the stock while the price is low. If you have some savings and you know how to stretch it, there’s absolutely no reason for those rich people to be buying that stock from you.

One thought on “Surviving a recession

  • October 11, 2007 at 7:19 pm
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    Don’t get old. It becomes harder to survive life.

    "No one can possibly have lived through the Great Depression without being scarred by it. No amount of experience since the depression can convince someone who has lived through it that the world is safe economically."
    Isaac Asimov

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