How To Prepare For A Recession: 10 Must-Do Steps

Hearing the word recession creates a feeling of discomfort for many. After all, recessions come with a lot of negatives, like stock market declines, job losses, and more. But you can learn how to prepare for a recession and still thrive financially.

How to prepare for a recession

Preparing for a recession is essential to your financial security.

Knowing how it affects the economy and your finances and taking key steps will help you during an economic downturn. Let’s get into what it all means and how you can prepare for a recession.

So, what is a recession?

A recession happens when there is a negative GDP for two consecutive quarters. During a recession, there is typically a decline in industrial and trade activity. Some major implications that come with recessions include job losses and a high unemployment rate. Also a drop in real estate values and a decline in investment values.

Economies work in a cycle. That means they go through periods of expansion and growth, as well as periods of decline known as recessions. Or, more severely, depressions such as the Great Depression in the 1930s.

One example is the great recession of 2008, which was triggered mainly as a result of the housing bubble in the United States.

It’s essential for us to know how to prepare for a recession, as it can impact our careers, lifestyles, and finances.

What changes during a recession?

Recessions can be damaging to stocks and assets, causing them to lose value.

A recession could also cause interest rates to drop. The Federal Reserve may decide to cut rates to make it cheaper to get loans and borrow money in an effort to try to stimulate the economy.

In addition, this means you will see rates drop on your savings accounts too.

The government debt may rise as they pass bills for stimulus packages to assist those in need. And also to help the economy recover.

All of this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest during a recession, though.

In fact, if you’re wondering is now a good time to invest, it can be if you do it right and work on tackling any stock market fear you might have.

How to prepare for a recession financially

Recessions happen, but you can be ready for them. Here are ten key tips for how to prepare for a recession.

1. Assess your overall finances

Before you start to make a plan for a recession, consider what your finances look like right now.

For example, what are you currently paying for in your monthly expenses list? You likely have some necessary expenses, such as your mortgage or childcare.

But are there things that you really don’t need or can afford to cut back on?

For instance, dry cleaning, hair and nail salon appointments, restaurants, etc. Perhaps you’re spending too much on non-essential things and living a champagne lifestyle that you can’t afford.

In that case, cut back for the time being so you can use your money for more essential matters.

2. Ensure you can cover your basics before you invest or pay debt

Perhaps you assessed your finances and found out some surprising things. If you can’t afford your current lifestyle, or you are struggling to pay your bills without debt each month, it’s time to make some changes.

For instance, before using my money for investing or paying off debt, I like to be sure that I can pay for all of my basic necessary expenses. Rent, groceries, insurance, etc., are all things to pay for before doing anything else with my money.

If you need to make more income to afford your basic bills, consider a side hustle or a second job. Then you can change your focus to paying off debt, investing, building an emergency fund, etc. Doing so can help you in your future by preparing you for a recession.

3. Bulk up your emergency savings and keep it easily accessible

As you work on getting your finances ready for a recession, it’s very important to have emergency savings in place. In a recession, having an emergency fund can save you a lot of stress. It acts as a safety net with enough money to help you during difficult times.

You’ll avoid becoming financially over-extended or having to leverage debt just to get by. The importance of savings cannot be overlooked!

Save 3 to 12 months of expenses

To start, you want to put aside 3 to 6 months’ worth of your basic living expenses in an emergency account in the unfortunate event that you become unemployed.

And since recessions can be pretty unpredictable, aim to boost your emergency savings to 12 months of your essential expenses to have extra money if needed.

That much cash will give you ample time to find a new job. But remember, jobs can be harder to come by in an economy experiencing a recession.

Keep in mind that your basic living expenses are the essential things you need to survive; food, housing, core utilities, and transportation. Building your emergency fund is one of the most important steps when preparing for a recession.

4. Diversify your investments

Ever heard the saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket? Well, the same line of thinking applies to your investments.

It’s important to have a well-diversified investment portfolio, such as a 3 fund portfolio. That means your investments should not all be tied up in one stock or one real estate property.

You want to make sure your investments are spread across multiple industries and areas so that if one industry or area experiences a decline, one investment decision doesn’t sink your entire portfolio.

For example, if you invest in the stock market, you can spread your investments across multiple sectors such as consumer goods, healthcare, technology, etc.

Investing with index funds and mutual funds are both great ways to diversify. You can also choose to invest in the real estate market and in small businesses.

How to invest wisely

As an investor, be sure to do your research, be clear on your investment strategy and objectives, and understand how risk averse you are. It will create less panic for you if a recession comes along.

A big mistake people make is that they start selling every investment they own when the economy dips because of emotions like fear or worry. It’s a bad idea in the long run.

If you have a clear plan for your investments and you’re in it for the long term, you are in a good place. Your investment is likely to weather a bad economy and come out on top.

Talk to a financial advisor if you have any confusion or feel stuck regarding what to do. (Find out: do I need a financial advisor?) Prepare for a recession by diversifying your investments wisely.

5. Create a plan to pay off debt once your essentials are covered

The last thing you want to do is worry about having to pay off debt in a bad economy, especially with the increased rates of unemployment. When focusing on how to prepare for a recession, debt payoff should definitely be a factor.

Paying off your debt will save you a ton of money in interest payments and put you in a better financial situation. Plus, you’ll also be able to put your extra funds toward bulking up your emergency savings and other financial goals.

So, after your basic expenses are covered, as discussed earlier, you can start using your excess income to pay off debt or save.

Prioritize high-interest debt

It’s a good idea to focus on paying off your high-interest debt before you consider ramping up on investing (meaning investing more than your usual amount, though you should always invest some if you’re able to).

If you have high-interest debt the cost of your interest payments may far exceed the return on your investment.

For instance, if you have credit card debt that has a 19% interest rate, then it makes more sense to pay off that debt as soon as you can, given that the average long-term rate of return on the stock market is ~8% to 10%. Reduce credit card debt if at all possible.

Obviously, your rate of return could be much higher, but you want to avoid speculating or trying to time the market.

Once your debt is gone, you can focus on investing a higher percentage. Find out more about creating a smart debt repayment plan, like the debt snowball worksheet method, and learn how to start investing.

As a side note, if you have no other debt and your investments are on track, you might consider paying extra toward your mortgage to pay off that debt, too.

Preparing for a recession infographic

6. Refinance variable interest debt into fixed interest

Interest rates typically decline during a recession. That means you may be in a good position to refinance things like mortgages or think about the pros and cons of refinancing a car.

Having a variable interest rate means that it can change over time, so getting a fixed interest rate for any debt you have is usually ideal.

Take advantage of the possibility of debt being cheaper if it makes sense for you. Remember, refinancing only applies to the debt you already have.

A recession may not be a great time to take on new debt unless it’s necessary and you’re absolutely sure you can afford it. Always have a payoff plan, no matter what.

7. Learn how to budget and live within your means

Living below your means or at least within your means is the key to building wealth. It also means you eliminate having to leverage debt to live your life—no more using credit cards to pay your bills.

Find out how to prepare for a recession and still live within your means.

Use your budget to focus on financial security

Determine what budgeting style works best for you and learn better budgeting techniques. Your budget will help you track your expenses compared to what you earn and highlight areas you can cut back on.

Your ultimate goal should be to widen the gap between your income and expenses as much as you can. You do this by finding out how to increase your income and reduce your expenses. Spend on necessities instead of luxuries, as discussed earlier.

Any leftover money can be used to create financial security, which can primarily be achieved through saving, investing, paying off debt, and making your money work for you.

Make a plan about how much you want to save, what other income sources you can create, and how you’ll pay off debt. Then give all your attention and any spare money to those goals.

When you make progress towards your financial goals, refuse to upgrade your lifestyle. There will be time for that when you are in a better financial situation, but if you’re focused on preparing for a recession, then don’t spend on things you don’t need for now.

Continue with your plan, and you will be in a much better place with your money.

8. Find more ways to create multiple streams of income

Millionaires usually have several income sources, and for good reason. Creating multiple sources of income ensures that you increase how much you have coming in, and it can increase your peace of mind during economic uncertainty.

It also acts as a buffer in case you lose a source of income. Here’s how to get started with making more money.

Start a side hustle

Is there something you’re passionate about doing? Something you do that you get complimented on all the time?

Consider starting a side hustle to generate some additional income. There are also a variety of recession-proof businesses you can consider.

For me, starting a side hustle has helped me bulk up my savings, pay off debt, and just be generally more prepared for difficult financial circumstances.

Consider passive income opportunities

Setting up passive income sources is also a smart idea. Passive real estate investing like REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), royalties, and selling digital products like eBooks can all be sources of passive income that can help you in tough times.

Dividend investing can also be a passive income source, as can becoming a landlord. There are many opportunities, so as you consider the resources you have, find out which ones will work for you.

9. Dual income household? Learn to live on one income and save the other

One of the savviest financial moves you can make to prepare for a recession is to shift to living on one income and saving the other. Getting frugal with your budget and reducing expenses can free up a lot of money to save for a rainy day fund.

The goal is to reduce your cost of living enough to free up the second salary altogether.

You will bulk up your emergency fund and not rely on a second income in the event of a job loss. Living below your means is the best way to prepare for the unexpected.

10. Consider finding a recession-proof job if you are in the job market

Another way to prepare for a recession as an employee is to consider recession-proof jobs. Healthcare workers, teachers, and pharmacists are types of jobs in demand even during a recession.

If you aren’t looking for a job, it’s still important to be prepared. Expanding your skills is excellent for job security, especially when it comes to wages and working remotely.

Make sure to add any new skills to your resume to stay prepared in case someone is hiring for a job you’re interested in. 

Another idea for jobs is remote work. Companies are shifting towards remote positions now more than ever. Since the best work from home jobs are on the rise, you might consider applying for some or starting a home-based business.

While not every remote job is a good choice during a recession, it is helpful to have it as an option.

Expert tip

Recessions are going to happen, so it’s important to always know how to prepare for a recession. In my opinion, the best bet is to take the approach of being over prepared.

Try doing several things to improve your financial situation, such as budgeting, saving money, and looking for a new job or side hustle. The more you prepare, the better you will feel and the more your finances will improve.

How much money do you need to survive a recession?

The amount of money you need to survive a recession depends a lot on your savings and expenses, but a good place to start is by setting aside emergency cash.

You should try to have 3 to 12 months of your core expenses saved to prepare for a recession, and you can always have more than this if you think it’s necessary and for peace of mind.

In addition, having multiple income sources from several jobs or side hustles diversifies your income and can help you in a recession. With many income sources, your finances are less likely to take a big hit, even during a recession.

What should I buy in a recession?

You should buy things in a recession that are likely to be cheaper and make the most sense financially for example your core essentials. It’s a good time to invest, especially in stocks and potentially real estate.

Make the investments that you can afford after you pay your bills, of course.

Beyond investing, what you buy during a recession really depends on your goals and financial obligations. If you have savings and are doing well financially during a recession, you may be able to spend as normal.

Make sure you know how to spend money wisely before making unnecessary purchases.

What happens to money you have in the bank during a recession?

The money you have in the bank during a recession is generally still quite safe. Just be sure that your bank is FDIC insured (which will cover amounts up to $250,000 for each depositor), and you don’t need to worry about losing your money.

However, the interest rates for your accounts may drop, so this is something to be prepared for.

There is generally no reason to remove your money from the bank during a recession, and it’s unwise to panic and take out your investments, as well.

The best thing to do during a recession is to wait it out, knowing that the economy will return to normal and your money will still be in the bank. The stock market also does well generally over time, so leaving your investments alone is a good idea.

How much money should you hold in a recession?

The amount of money you should hold in a recession in cash is whatever amount you have for your emergency fund. 3 to 6 months of savings is the commonly accepted amount, and it will likely be enough to help you get through difficult times during a recession.

If you want to keep more cash than this, you can, of course. Even up to a 12-month emergency fund is a smart idea.

But beyond that, it is pretty safe to have your money invested in most cases. You don’t want to miss out on interest, after all!

How can you make money in a recession?

Knowing how to make money in a recession is all about looking for opportunities. Find a job that is likely to stick around during a recession e.g. a recession-proof job, start a side hustle, invest money, and look for ways to earn that isn’t affected by the recession.

Also, consider careers and money-making opportunities that thrive in a recession, like healthcare, grocery stores, etc.

In addition to this, continue to make money as usual by not quitting your day job, if possible. One of the best ideas for maximum financial security during a recession is to have a full-time job and a side hustle. The more hours you can work, the more prepared you are and the more financial wellness you have.

If you enjoyed this article about preparing for a recession, you’ll like these other reads!

Start leveraging these tips on how to prepare for a recession today!

While we can’t predict when a recession will happen, it makes sense to always be prepared for major life events. Apply these tips for how to prepare for a recession properly and make good financial decisions.

That way, you aren’t taken off guard financially, and you will have everything in place to prevent financial disaster. Trying out extreme frugal living, bulking up your savings, and creating multiple streams of income will help secure your financial wellbeing.

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