A recession is a very real possibility.
As the Federal Reserve aggressively raises rates to combat persistent inflation, the tough stance could come at a price. Already, falling stock markets have wiped out more than $9 trillion in wealth from U.S. households.
And yet, 31% of Americans said they are not equipped for an economic downturn and are not actively doing anything to better prepare for one, according to a recent Bankrate.com report.
“Recession depression, recession fatigue — whatever you want to call it, the hits to Americans’ financial security keep on coming, first with the devastating coronavirus pandemic, followed by 40-year-high inflation and now the growing risk of another downturn,” said Bankrate.com analyst Sarah Foster.
“Sustaining motivation for two-plus years to prepare for tough economic times can no doubt feel exhausting,” she said.
“That isn’t a fault of people, so much as a response to the overwhelming amount of stress put on them,” added Jeffrey Galak, an associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon and expert in consumer behavior.
“People have spent 2½ years managing a global pandemic, uncertain financial futures, political turmoil and growing inflation,” he said. “At some point, people will run out of will to keep making good choices for their futures.”
When broken down by generation, younger adults, or Gen Zers, are more likely to experience “recession fatigue,” compared to millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.
They are also the group that tend to say that the pandemic interrupted their formative years and feel slighted by a short-lived “hot vax summer,” Foster said.
“Recession fatigue is the awkward cousin of revenge spending,” she said. “Americans were deprived of so many activities that brought them joy. It’s kind of like financial apathy.”
Even if the economy does sidestep a recession, consumers are already struggling in the face of sky-high prices, and nearly half of Americans say they are falling deeper in debt.
If job losses follow, the impact would be felt broadly, although every household would experience a pullback to a different degree, depending on income, savings and financial standing.
Still, there are several ways to prepare that are universal, according to Foster.
How to prepare for a recession
- Streamline your spending. Take a look at your budget to see where you are spending your money, and whether just a few extra dollars a week can be put into a savings account. “Every little bit helps, especially as savings rates continue to rise,” Foster said.
- Stash extra cash in a fun fund. Recessions, or the fear of them, can take a toll on your mental wellbeing, Foster said, especially if you are cutting yourself off from activities that involve spending money. “Having a fun fund can help you pick and choose what most excites you without totally depriving yourself.”
- Cut impulse purchases. Even as more Americans say they are stretched too thin, they’re also spending more on impulse buys. Shoppers spend $314, on average, a month on spontaneous purchases, up from $276 in 2021, one recent survey found. Think through these expenditures, especially when it comes to big-ticket items, to try to take the impulsivity out, Foster advised.
- Consider a job switch. Despite a slowing economy, the job market is still strong, Foster said, and many workers can use that to their advantage. The typical worker who changed jobs between April 2021 and March 2022 saw earnings jump by 10%, after accounting for inflation, the Pew Research Center found. Worker bargaining power may be cooling, but it remains strong — for now.
- Stay invested. While recent market dives can deter current or prospective investors, “stocks are heavily discounted compared to last year’s record highs,” Foster said, “meaning that a down market could be a good opportunity to focus on long-term investing goals.”
- Find extra income streams. There may be ways to monetize your existing hobbies and interests to either help cover the rising cost of living or save extra cash. The most lucrative side hustles can even be done from home, such as resume writing or transcribing audio. Otherwise, consider selling unwanted clothing or household goods to free up some funds.
- Change your mindset. Rather than focusing on what you should not buy, Foster recommends thinking about your long-term goals and how your money can help you get there. “Whether your goal is buying a house or retiring early, be sure to line that goal up with your individual spending habits,” she said.