What a wild couple of weeks it has been. As I sit here in March 2020, the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is spreading across the entire world. Major sports leagues are cancelled or suspended, toilet paper is almost non-existent, and any gatherings of 10 or more people are discouraged through May. My city of St. Louis currently has a stay-at-home order and the media coverage of the virus is all over the place.
Some people are taking “social distancing” seriously, while others are going about their lives like nothing has changed. Only time will tell the severity of this virus. We can all hope and pray that loss of life will be limited as a result of the measures we’re taking, but if we’re being honest, we may be looking at a loss of life in our country with totals in the six figures before the virus runs its course.
There is a deep feeling of uneasiness across the world. The United States is right in the middle of this pandemic and New York continues to have an exponential increase of cases daily. The virus is spreading from the coasts to the Midwest and will be in most cities in a matter of days or weeks.
All the sudden the economy feels like 2008 all over again. I know this situation is different. The last was a financial crisis and this one a health crisis. Since this is a personal finance blog, I’m not going to speak about the health side of the pandemic. However, as someone who lived through 2008, I’m seeing similar patterns in the first couple weeks. Here are a few lessons learned from the 2008 recession that you may want to consider for today.
Living Through a Recession is Difficult
One of my biggest worries with the historic bull run during the past 10 years is people have forgotten what it’s like to live through a recession. While this technically isn’t a recession yet since a recession requires two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP) growth, we’re most likely headed in that direction. If the current situation with COVID-19 turns into a longer recession, we will all know someone who loses a job, files for bankruptcy, forecloses on a home, or severs a relationship due to financial reasons. If predictions are true, we may know someone who falls victim to the virus as well.
What stood out most during the Great Recession was the number of individuals who were not just unemployed, but underemployed. Time after time I would meet individuals who were working jobs that paid significantly less than their previous role. I remember my co-worker whose husband lost his job in his mid-50s. It took him nearly five years to find a new job that was comparable to the former. All the while they were struggling to make their house payment and nearly lost their home at one point. Then there was the former human resources executive who ended up working the register in my work cafetieria. He was just grateful to have a job at the time and eventually was hired on in a different role more in line with his background.
See Related Post: A Young Family’s Guide to Building Generational Wealth
It’s tough to describe what living through a recession is like when you’ve never done it before. For several years people have been talking about missing the run-up in the market that started back in 2009. It’s easy to sit here today and look at the massive gains over the past years and wonder how anyone could have gotten out of the market back in 2009.
Living through a recession is a much different story. The media coverage and end-of-world scenarios were just as prevalent in 2008-2009 as they have been in the past few weeks. Eventually if you don’t turn off the news you start to believe it. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s equally important to know when to step away and focus on the things you can control (this advice is mostly for myself).
Stick to Your Long-Term Plan
Going through a recession as an investor is kind of like going through a bad break-up. The first time it happens you are completely miserable and wonder if you will ever shake the depression. After the second or third time, it’s still miserable at first but you come to understand that with time the pain will go away and you’ll end up a stronger person on the other side.
A large percentage of the workforce will be going through a significant downturn for the first time. Most everyone under the age of 30 has never gone through this while in the workforce. It’s easy to say “stocks are on sale” when there is a 5-10% correction erased in a couple months. It’s much more difficult when the market drops 35% in a few weeks and the uncertainty becomes overwhelming.
The truth is nobody knows what the market is going to look like in the next couple months. If anyone did, they would be the richest person in the world. Businesses all over the world are going on lock-down for several weeks or maybe months. We’ve never seen before a world-wide pandemic like COVID-19, at least not since the Spanish Flu of 1918, when the world looked much different. We could emerge out of this a completely different world or we could get an announcement in a few weeks that a vaccine is on the way and everything will return to normal much sooner than expected. We just don’t know.
See Related Post: 5 Reasons to pay off your mortgage instead of invest elsewhere
All I know is the people who were hurt the worst in the Great Recession sold near the bottom of the market. So many people took money out of the market because they believed we’d never recover. They bought gold and silver after their stock portfolios dropped by 50% because they were convinced that our economic system would never recover. Not only did we get back to record highs after a few years, but we blew through high after high for years.
If you were going to time the market, which I don’t recommend, the time to pull your money out is when the market is at all time highs, not when the market falls by 35%. If you haven’t pulled your money out now, it’s time to hold on for dear life unless you absolutely need the money to survive. History shows that the market always comes back. It may take 5 months or 10 years; we just don’t know. This is why traditional advice is to not be heavily invested in stocks unless you plan to be in the market for at least 5 years and some recommend 10.
Help Others in Need
I’m extremely thankful to have a job that is relatively secure and can be done remotely. That could change in an instant or I could do something stupid and get fired tomorrow. However, as long as steady paychecks are coming in we’ll look for ways to help friends, family, and local businesses.
This is going to be a tough time for a lot of people. My brother and his fiance work at the same restaurant and they are going to be out of work for at least a month. They have a one-year-old and the next few weeks or months are going to be tough until they get back to work. Even when they are back at work, more than likely people will have less disposable income to spend until the economy bounces back.
So how can you help others? Maybe purchase a local grocery store gift card for a family in need. Spend money at local restaurants that choose to remain open. Check in with churches or other local organizations to find out who is approaching them with needs. When we give, our goal is to maximize the value of our contributions. We look for organizations that take the dollar we give and amplify it. We will continue to search for opportunities to give back to a community that has been so good to us.
Finally, the government just approved a massive stimulus relief bill given the current situation. I’m not in the business of telling people how to spend their money, but if you are in good financial shape with low debt, emergency savings, and investments, then do your part to put that money back into your local economy or give to chartity. If you are not in good financial shape, use that money to get caught up on debt payments or build a small emergency fund. Even a $1,000 emergency fund can provide you with incredible peace of mind. Some people, of course, may be out of work and will need that money to survive the next few months.
Lessons Learned from the Great Recession
So, what is our plan during this market downturn? Business as usual for now. I have no idea what the market will do over the next several months. More than likely it will take us a while to bounce back from this but who knows? The fact is that we’re investing for the long haul and don’t need the money for 10+ years. If the Great Recession taught us anything it’s not to panic, be thankful for the good things in our life, and to be generous to people who need help. This too shall pass.