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7 Actions That Can Help Your Wallet in a Troubled Economy

7 Actions That Can Help Your Wallet in a Troubled Economy

    While the economic sky is falling, it’s still possible to make sure that your financial status is steady. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been even more focused on the steps I’m taking to improve my personal finances. I’ve found a few actions that probably won’t make you a millionaire — but they will ensure that a rocky economy doesn’t have too much of an effect on your wallet.

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    1. Pay Down Debt

    When in doubt on your finances, paying down debt is always a good option. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s easier to get more credit down the road if you pay off debt now. I realize that many financial gurus say that an emergency fund is the best place to start. Well, from my own experiences in a rough economy when interest rates can do all sorts of crazy things, paying down debt can be a better plan. If an emergency comes up, you may need to take on more debt to cover it — but you’ll be better equipped to handle it.

    2. Polish Your Resume

    Even if you aren’t in a field that’s currently experiencing a high rate of turnover, you should pull out your resume and polish it. If you’ve already got a good-looking resume in place, you’ve got a head start on all sorts of things: job-hunting, applying for a second job, freelancing and more. It may not be worth hiring a resume coach or other professional, but it’s definitely worthwhile to find a few examples of good resumes and compare yours.

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    3. Take a Close Look at Your Retirement Plan

    401(k)s remain the popular retirement plan and, if you have one, it’s time to take a close look. The same goes for IRAs and any other assets you’ve purchased on your own. The market is very volatile now — it may be possible to pick up some impressive stocks on the cheap and it may be possible to watch the prices of the stocks in your 401(k) tumble downwards. As long as you aren’t retiring in the next few years, you can probably afford to ride this economic down turn out. The only stock-picking advice I can offer — and this applies to other assets as well — is that diversity is your friend. If your money is spread out, at least over a variety of stocks if not a variety of investment instruments, then a problem in a particular company or industry won’t wipe you out.

    4. Buy Stuff Now

    If you’ve got a big purchase coming up that you really do need to make, it’s better to make the purchase now rather than later. The U.S. dollar has already experienced significant inflation; it’s only going to get worse. That basically means your money is worth more now that it will be in a few months. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you can buy now. It’s a little counter-intuitive, I admit, and there are plenty of exceptions to this step. Shopping, however, can be good for your wallet in the long run. You get the added bonus of knowing that you’re improving the economy with every cent you spend.

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    5. Educate Yourself

    I think we’ve all gotten a crash course in terms like ‘MBS’ lately, although we may not know exactly what they mean. It’s time to start seriously studying your personal finance vocab though, up to and including economic terms. The U.S. government offers plenty of free resources that are perfect for teaching yourself more about personal finance. You’ll have to custom fit your educational plan to your own finances: a really great starting point, I think, is reading through my latest bank statement and checking up on all the things I don’t understand, down to calling up and asking a teller about specific fees.

    6. Invest in Your Future

    If you’re having some trouble in the working world, now might be the perfect time to head back to school and get that degree you always wanted. You can get bigger loans with better terms to live on for a few years — hopefully getting you through the worst parts of our current economic problems before going back on the job market. Brushing up on your skills (and learning new ones) can also be the difference between making enough money to make it through economic problems comfortably and having to take a job for which you are overqualified. You don’t have to go all out and enlist back in school. In some cases, reading a book is more than enough effort to improve your career situation.

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    7. Ignore the News

    The news media seems pretty much obsessed with each economic crisis, but you really can’t do much about the Dow Jones slipping or a bank failing. I recommend skipping the nightly news entirely, but muting just the business news might be enough. Some specialized news is, of course, worth paying attention to — if you’re invested in the stock market, it’s probably a good idea to read the stock reports. That’s really about it, though. Most of us have effectively no affect on any economic or business news: I know that even if I send a letter to my Congressman about the bailout package, I’m probably not going to affect his final decision. It’s just not worth paying attention to all that depressing news.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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