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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 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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