By Martin Hopkins
In this troubling economy, previous safe bets are providing squandered returns, brokers are consulting fickle crystal balls, and the average person is attempting to handle personal finances on his or her own.
In the tumultuous ocean of bad news and worse results, many are giving way to the crashing waves, throwing up their hands and just letting the current take them who knows where.
But there are steps people can take to not only steady their financial ship, but perhaps reinforce it and even add to it. Below are five tips for weathering the troubling economy.
1. Combine mortgages and/or refinance. If you have a second high interest mortgage, speak to both propertys mortgage lenders to work out one combined mortgage with a reduced interest rate. Mortgage rates are low right now, but expected to rise in the foreseeable future, so its a good time to select a 30-year fixed rate mortgage and lock yourself into the lowered numbers. This applies for refinances as well - for the price equivalent of closing costs, you could refinance with a lower mortgage rate and substantially cut down your monthly payments.
2. Set up a budget and track actual expenses vs. budget. Use a program like Quicken to see how much you spend a month compared to what you actually bring in and want to be saving. Once you know what you spend, determine where you can cut costs, and start adding more to the savings column with each paycheck. You will be amazed how effective this can be in controlling costs and leaving you with more savings each month.
3. Negotiate fixed expenses. When reviewing your expenses, take note that you may very well be able to negotiate with service providers for lower charges. These are tough time for businesses as well, and companies may be willing to adjust costs if it means keeping your business.
4. Look after your job. Even when they need to cut costs, employers are reluctant to let great employees go. If you make yourself invaluable, either by taking on multiple roles, by holding so much company knowledge you are an essential asset, or through some other means, they will hold onto you for as long as they can. If you retain your job through the worst of this economic downturn, you may even emerge with a worthy raise or even a promotion. After all, you didnt just weather your storm - you helped the company weather theirs.
5. Continue purchasing. While is it important to control spending, its also an ideal time to make smart purchases. Dont let the economy blind you to opportunities to buy something you were previously considering - prices on houses, cars, and even minor household items are at a low, with prime opportunity for negotiation. Get great deals on investments now and reap the rewards when the economy recovers.
These are just five things you can start doing now to make sure you arent swallowed by the crashing economic waves. If you purchase smart and curb unnecessary spending, while becoming a star at work, you may just end up better than you were before all this trouble started.
Just as water can be deadly, but also provides life, the economy may be bad right now, but it can deliver a tremendous opportunity. Take advantage of the chances you have before you, and weather this troubling economy.
Martin Hopkins is a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor, Certified Financial Planner, and board member of the Northeast division of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). He is the president of Hopkins Investment Management, a firm that provides personal asset wealth management in the Mid-Atlantic region, and has more than 25 years experience in the financial industry.