Category Archives: Financial Planning

How the Last Recession Prepared Me for the One that’s Coming

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to check in. To say that this Spring has been among the strangest, and one of the most unexpected time in our lives, would be an understatement.

It’s been about eight years since I started this blog; just a few years after being forced to adjust my life to a new normal. Like so many people who are dealing with that today, the recession of 12 years sent the economy tanking, the housing market tumbling, small businesses closing, and corporations downsizing. Massive layoffs, unemployment, company bankruptcies, house foreclosures, and lots of uncertainty. And even as we slowly came out of it, thousands of people remained underemployed for years after; having to learn how to live with their new career and smaller salaries.

Millennials graduated into a shaky economy, where they struggled to find jobs, or accepted ones far less than the salary they expected their college degrees to help secure. Some of their Baby Boomer parents never found new employment (ageism), while many Generation Xers had to transition into positions far less than their expertise, prior experience, and career positions had previously demanded. We were all in this together; trying to figure things out, move forward, stabilize the economy, and get back to as close to normal as possible. 

And we did. We succeeded.

It was painful, and a lot of what was, would never be again. But the economy came back. Jobs came back. New small businesses emerged. Entrepreneurship grew. We survived.

But here we are again. This time dealing with something much bigger than the loss of a job or home. We’re being thrust into a new normal where we must deal with that and the ever increasing, globally impacted, loss of life in this pandemic they call COVID-19.

There is an old saying that Handsight’s 20/20. But I think Foresight can be as well; especially when you start to see familiar signs; warning bells.

One of the things my four years in the last recession taught me was the importance of planning and preparation.

Planning is creating a type of road map that outlines what you will do in an emergency, or when you see a catastrophe (natural or financial) heading your way. It’s what children learn in school from the fire department when they ask every to create a fire escape plan at home. In Public Relations, we call them crisis management plans which outlines what a company or organization should do in the event of a crisis. If they follow the plan, it usually helps them get through the crisis without stumbling and causing more harm.

Preparation is putting into action your plan, and collecting the resources needed. If the forecast is for a foot of snow in a place that barely receives an inch, then ask yourself, what do you need to do if you end up being “snowed in,” schools out, and you know you will be unable to get to work due to road conditions? A prepared person would probably grab the folders and files they need from their office so they can work from home; encourage their kids to bring their books home from school that day; and by all means, stop at the grocery store to pick up any items they have on the monthly shopping list, that they weren’t planning to do for another week. At home, someone preparing for a major snow storm might also take the time to check the batteries in their flashlights, pull out their candles or secondary light sources, and make sure all of the important devices are fully charged.

It’s too late to check for batteries once your power goes out. Or to realize your pantry is mostly empty, after the roads have closed. And yes, if you only have one pack of toilet paper in a house of four people, you should probably be mindful to pick up another one “just in case.”

About 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits, in the wake of the Coronavirus related layoffs, business closings, cancelled public events, and a volatile stock market. While a number of companies have instituted pay cuts to keep their employees. Rent, mortgages, groceries, medicines, utilities, and other bills are coming due, with many people lacking the funds to cover them.

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According to Bankrate’s Financial Security Index, nearly three in 10 (28 percent) U.S. adults have no emergency savings. One in four have a rainy day fund, but not enough money to cover three months’ worth of living expenses.

Sadly, there are a lot of Americans, literally working paycheck to paycheck, with no room in the month for emergencies or unexpected hits to their finances. This is a particularly difficult time for millions of people. But for many others; especially those who have always had a steady income, your habits, your lifestyle, and planning, or lack of planning, does still matter. What you have today doesn’t guarantee your tomorrow.

I’ve watched an industry I thought was invincible, screech to a grinding halt. And related companies institute pay cuts across the company. 

So what can you do now if you’re one of the people whose rainy day funds are not sufficient to cover you in the event you’re next to lose your job?

  • Stop spending frivolously.
  • Start saving immediately.
  • If you’re not already a coupon user, start shopping with them now.
  • Utilize rewards programs for groceries and gas to get extra savings.
  • If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!
  • Even as you desire to support local restaurants, limit how often you’re eating out.
  • Go through your bank statements searching for automatic withdraws, and stop the ones you don’t need/use. If your gym is closed right now, are they still charging you a monthly fee?
  • Get rid of duplicate services (do you really need both Hulu and Amazon movies; Spotify and Apple Music?). 

If you do not have a personal financial crisis plan, consider developing one now.

If the last recession taught us anything, it’s that what may have taken only months to get in to, took the majority of people and various industries years to climb back out. How are you preparing yourself now for the long-term?

 

 

Would Your ‘Do-Over’ Make a Difference?

Six years ago, I was frantically trying to pack up the house I was renting on one side of town so that I could move back into the house I owned on the other side of town. It was January 2014 and less than two months earlier I’d sold my house…or so I thought.

There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to sell my home, but that bad decision to move when I did was the beginning of three back-to-back terrible house-related decisions, and a total of seven moves in less than a four year period of time, that completely wrecked me financially; at a cost I’m still paying for today.

Why did I think I’d sold my house? Because my realtor told me I did.

We had the contract and the earnest money in hand; the inspections were done and repairs were made; an appraisal was completed; and the closing date was set. But I made one big mistake. I moved out of my house the weekend before closing, which was set the Friday after Thanksgiving. I knew there was no way I could get packed up and moved the actual day of the closing AND since I was planning to rent for a year, I also needed to secure a place where I’d be moving to before moving out. So I put down a deposit for the rental house, paid the required first month’s rent, and then paid movers to move me out of my home and into my new place.

The buyers were making their preparations too. They put in for their mail forwarding; the paperwork to have the utilities transferred into their names was completed, and they were planning to start moving in that weekend after closing.

But during the process, something felt wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just didn’t feel right. And then my realtor went AWOL during the final days leading up to the closing; the time period when she should have been most available.

And then I got the phone call. The closing had failed! What happened after that was a total nightmare!

First, we tried to work with the buyers and their bank, to try to find out what happened; see what could be done in an attempt to get them to change their mind. Before I accepted their offer, my agent had assured me that they had a pre-approval letter, so hearing that the failure had to do with finances was a shock to me; leaving me to question whether or not my agent had really done her due diligence.

Then we tried finding another buyer (sadly this was right before the housing explosion in Nashville)! It was the middle of the holidays and no one was looking to move during Christmas. By January, I’d been paying both a mortgage and rent for three months and couldn’t continue doing so.

So, I made the hard decision to move back into my home and take it off the market.

 

That meant not only losing my deposit at the rental; but paying to get everything transferred back over into my name – the cable, the security system, phone, gas, electricity, and water. It also meant that all of the money I’d paid to turn everything on at the rental was lost; as was the money paid to the movers; and now I was going to have to pay to move back to the house.

Talk about a hit to the finances!

No house sale. And now I was out over $8,500 of money (counting the rent, the deposit, moving costs, etc.) that I really didn’t have to lose. All because someone else’s finances fell apart. Even though I didn’t know, and my agent didn’t tell me that I could have put a contingency in the contract to not move out until a certain number of days after the closing – I would have still been out the deposit and first month’s rent on the rental house, as that was the only way to hold the place to move in to. Not to mention the costs to make the updates they wanted from the home inspection.

 

That hard financial hit taught me one thing. Don’t accept another contract offer without adding a contingency on the move out date. That’s what I did four months later after switching realtors and putting my house back on the market. And it sold to a nice couple, who accepted the contingency, allowing me to move out three days after we closed.

But unfortunately, instead of going with my original plan of renting first; I put my money into another house (I needed to move from having stairs to having one-story, for health reasons). Under normal circumstances, this would probably have made perfect sense. But once again, I didn’t listen to my gut. I started having a bad feeling on the house during the inspection process – a time when I could have walked away due to the contingency I’d placed on it about the inspection report. Everything in me said to stop; something wasn’t right. I truly felt that the buyers weren’t being truthful. But once again, I listened to my realtor (a different one) and convinced myself that perhaps I was just getting cold feet and unwarranted panic attacks. So we kept moving forward.

BIG MISTAKE!

I ended up in a money pit, and with documented evidence that came later, turns out the buyers HAD indeed lied on the inspection report and face-to-face when questioned about certain things. And while it cost me a lot of money to make the repairs, the attorney I spoke to said doing so would still be cheaper than trying to sue them. You see, even if I won the lawsuit, she said…all they would have to do is declare bankruptcy and I wouldn’t see one penny of the money; but I will have spent over $20,000 in legal fees and such to take them to court.

I decided to cut my losses. I called my old realtor who sold the other house, and he sold that one in less than two weeks. I just wanted out and away from another house.

IMG_5312I can admit today that I fell into a depression, fueled by the incredible back-to-back financial hits I’d incurred – the draining of my savings account, the distrust of people who I thought were supposed to be there for my best interest. And the multiple moves in such a short period of time that hadn’t just destroyed my bank account, but my confidence and the security of who I was.

I was smarter than that. I knew I was smarter than what I had allowed to happen to me in that less than two-year period of time. So, what happened? And how did I let this happen?

I knew that my mental state wouldn’t allow me to trust another home purchase decision; and I certainly wasn’t going to trust another realtor. So, after a one year stay in one rental house, I moved 30 miles away — closer to my job — settled into another rental where I stayed put for the past few years.

I needed to breathe, to think, to plan, to live for more than a year in one place, and think back on and figure out the rest of my life. black-and-white-hand-person

I couldn’t go back and change what had happened. And I knew it would take me years to replace all the money I’d lost over the two years. But I also knew I didn’t want to make another move without a full plan in place.

What would I do differently?

Well, hindsight is always 20/20. And as this year is 2020, it seems appropriate to refer to my life’s lessons in vision terms. I should have viewed more things through strong lens.

 

  • Evaluate whether moving from your current house is the right thing to do and the right time. Once I moved back to my house that January, 2014, in spite of the knee injury (and later, surgery), I probably should have stayed put a while longer.
  • Never move out before closing; even if it means adding a contingency that some buyers may not accept. Better to lose that buyer up front than to be left holding the financial bag on the backend.
  • Trust your gut! If there’s one thing I regretted through the turmoil, it would be listening to realtors instead of my gut – both times! It cost me greatly. When something doesn’t feel right, stop and try to figure out why. Trust that overwhelming feeling, ask the hard questions, and don’t accept soft answers that seem to gloss over your concerns.
  • Cut your losses. Try to re-group and recoup. You can’t re-do the past, but you can make plans not to repeat it in the future.
  • Watch out for your mental health. No one talks about the emotional hit that home buying and selling can have on a person; especially when the expected outcomes go bad. What that 2-3 year period did to me psychologically has had a lasting, negative, and financial impact on me even now, 6 years later.

 

What Will You Do in 2020 to Make Your Difference Financially in 2021?

So, in my last post, I mention the four major areas I plan to focus on in 2020:

  1. Personal Life
  2. Home Life
  3. Financial Life
  4. Professional Life

I said that I’d be sharing some of the things I’m doing, learning, and planning for myself in this new year. No particular time table. No scheduled challenges. No added pressure contributing to the stress.

Even though I was planning to write from my own experiences, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to share an awesome story with you from one of my BFFs adult daughters. I think you will find it very inspirational, even if the nature of it doesn’t specifically apply to you.

For the sake of this blog, I will call her LW, a 30-something year old, recently divorced, working mom of two kids. And like many of you reading this, she is in debt; a lot of debt. And like a number of you, she decided to do something about it.

calculator and pen99.999 percent of you will never win the million dollar lottery. And almost as many will likely never receive a multi-hundred thousand dollar settlement or inheritance. So the reality is that if you are living with debt that you can’t pay off each month, and you want to change that, then you have to be willing to change you. And by changing you, I mean, change your mindset about debt.

Debt isn’t something that just poor or middle class people struggle with. The simple definition of debt is owing more than you earn or have. Break-even means only spending what you earn/have. So if you earn (or even win) one million dollars, but you spend one and a half million; then you’ll find yourself in debt to the tune of $500,000. That’s why you often read about athletes who received huge multi-million dollar contracts, ending up broke just a few years into their retirement; or lottery winners losing their millions less than five years after their win.

But debt doesn’t always come about as a result of mismanagement of money. LIFE sometimes throws us a curve ball, resulting in unexpected expenses, a shift in lifestyle, or downturn in the economy. A bad investment, a business deal gone wrong, job loss, mounting medical costs, and lots of other things can impact your financial life. How you respond, and your willingness to adjust your lifestyle to your new normal, may determine the future of that financial life.

Here is LW’s story. The “bold” is my emphasis.

In 2019 I was finally in a position to take control of my finances, and I’m taking a moment to celebrate what I’ve accomplished. 

On 1 Jan 2019 (after my separation but before my divorce was finalized), I had $120,814 of debt to my name. The number made me physically ill to look at, and I was burdened by 6 different minimum monthly payments on credit cards, a personal loan, a 401k loan, a car loan, and one (large, consolidated) student loan.

In July, my divorce was finalized.

Today, on 1 Jan 2020, my total debt is now $68,891 – just my car loan and student loan. I paid off $51,923 of debt in 2019, focusing on the lowest balances first, and snowballing those monthly payments into the next-highest debt as they were freed up. 

I didn’t accrue any new debt. I’ve been so blessed by family – I lived with my parents rent-free for half of the year, then moved into a family-owned condo where I pay very low rent. I’m blessed with a good career and good income (that I work hard for), but even outside of that I worked my ass off

I sold a LOT of my stuff. I started reselling gently used clothing on Poshmark and delivering for Shipt. I’ve never really had problems controlling my spending, but I tightened my belt even more this year, trying to focus on reducing fast food and restaurant meals and cooking at home instead; using what we have instead of buying new; continuing to use coupons and rebate apps like ibotta, and using our local “Buy Nothing” Facebook page. I didn’t buy any Christmas presents this year except for my girls (sorry, fam – next year!). 

And it feels amazing; freeing, empowering.  

I have a long way to go and a lot more work to do. And in other ways this year was full of more ugliness than I’d ever wish on anyone. But it feels incredible to see the quantifiable progress I’ve made in this one area. I’m on track to be completely debt-free in 2020

2019 was for recovering, stabilizing, and rebuilding. 2020 is for flourishing, living generously, and teaching my girls how to do the same 

— LW