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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 March 30, 2020

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

    So, what to do in free time?

    Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

    Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

    1. Reading Files

    Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

    Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

    2. Clear out Inbox

    Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

    If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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    3. Phone Calls

    Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

    Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

    4. Make Money

    This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

    If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

    5. File

    No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

    But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

    Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

    6. Network

    Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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    7. Clear out Feeds

    If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

    8. Goal Time

    Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

    If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

    Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

    9. Update Finances

    Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

    Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

    10. Brainstorm Ideas

    Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

    11. Clear off Desk

    Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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    Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

    12. Exercise

    Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

    13. Take a Walk

    This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

    It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

    14. Follow up

    Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

    When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

    15. Meditate

    You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

    Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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    16. Research

    This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

    If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

    17. Outline

    Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

    18. Get Prepped

    Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

    You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

    19. Be Early

    Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

    Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

    20. Log

    If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

    Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

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    Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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