With concerns rising that the economic recovery is stalling, and that we're at risk of slipping into a "double dip" recession -- when the economy shrinks, grows, and then goes back into reverse -- it's no surprise that one of three Americans are losing sleep. But did you know what we're spending 3.5 hours a day worrying about our financial troubles?
One of Barron's top-ranked "Women Financial Advisors," Ameriprise Financial's Geri Eisenman Pell, CFP, MBA, provides some insight -- and advice -- as it relates to the key financial issues that are robbing Americans of their all-important zzzzz's.
The stats are alarming. We've lost nearly 8 million jobs since the recession started in December, 2007. Currently, 30 million Americans are either out of work or underemployed. In a new environment where many jobs aren't coming back, you have to be proactive. Broaden the job search and reinvent yourself, says Pell. That may require your doing some soul searching: What are you most passionate about? What is your 'gift' and how can you turn this into a career? Self assessing: Do you have the emotional intelligence and capacity to make this change? And taking a significant risk, which can be mitigated by networking: Join support groups and relevant trade organizations, attend social events, and get the word out. "You have to go out of your comfort zone, take action, and embrace change," says Pell, "even if it means taking an unpaid internship somewhere just to get experience in a new field."
Sinking stock prices. Europe's debt crisis. A slowdown in China. "It's a new world, a global economy -- not only because of goods and services, but because of the Internet -- and nothing is going to be perfect all the time," says Pell. So rather than take in every bad piece of news and allow yourself to be "boxed in by disaster, and ruled by your emotions," understand this new reality, first and foremost. Then assess your risk tolerance and make sure you have the right mix of stocks, bonds and cash based on your long-term investment strategy. Shorter term, you need to be tactical and make quick decisions, says Pell. Along the way, keep in mind that volatility comes with with territory -- it's the premium you pay for being in the markets -- but that over the long haul, stocks still offer the best returns.
Everyone's on the sidelines (with the exception, perhaps, of investors-they're snatching up short sales and foreclosures in all cash transactions) due to renewed concerns about the strength of the recovery. "Buyers don't want to buy because they're not convinced prices have bottomed; sellers, even if they need to sell, don't want to because they can't get the price they want," says Pell. Affordability has never been better -- mortgage rates, for example, are at a 50- year low so Pell says if you've found your dream house, can make the numbers work, are being offered financial incentives (like closing costs) and are thinking long term -- "you plan on living in the house for least 15 years" -- consider taking the plunge. As for selling, Pell says that it all depends where you're moving to. If it's a lateral move - for example, "if you're selling a house in an area where prices are down 10% and moving to place where prices are also down also down 10% (or more), then yes."
Will I ever retire? What about that lifestyle I dreamed I would have -- is that now out of reach? Not necessarily, says Pell. But when money isn't rolling in, you do need to take a much stricter approach to your finances, and inevitably make compromises -- "the Sheraton instead of the Ritz, $6 rum drinks instead of $14 Cosmos," says Pell -- and lower expectations. "The biggest mistake you can make is not changing your financial behavior."
Credit Card Debt
The average American household currently has $16,000 in credit card debt, according to creditcards.com. And while many Americans are reluctant to assume new debt and are trying their best to chip away at the existing debt (particularly since using credit has become much more difficult and expensive), they're asking a lot of questions along the way -- beginning with, 'Who can I turn to for help?' Start with the National Foundation For Credit Counseling.
Getting out of debt
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