With so many Americans feeling uneasy about the economy and their finances right now, we decided to ask some of our financial advisors across the country to share their insights and advice for uncertain times.
Below, Scott Cohen, a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor based in Los Angeles, shares his advice for Americans nervous about market volatility and why diversification is key right now.
A lot of people have been anxious about stock market volatility. What advice would you give them?
When the market is falling, the natural human instinct is to get out. It sounds counterintuitive, but for mid- to long-term time horizons, it is extremely important to stay the course and possibly even add to your positions. No one can predict what will happen in the short term, but over the long run, the economy and markets will come roaring back.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn't be proactive about managing your investments. It’s important to rebalance your portfolio during uncertain times. You want to make sure your accounts stay in the risk profile that’s appropriate for you. For example, if your preferred profile is 50 percent stocks and 50 percent bonds, the downturn could have pushed it to 40 percent stocks and 60 percent bonds. Rebalancing will help you get it back to your preferred percentage. It also means you’ll own more stocks when the market rebounds, setting you up to take more advantage of the growth that will eventually come.
Many younger Americans have never experienced managing their money during a turbulent period. What would you say to someone who has only recently started managing their own finances?
I don’t think the basics really change, regardless of what the economy is doing. When you’re young your expenses are typically lower so take that opportunity to save, because that won’t always be the case.
Saving can include a lot of things. If you have a 401(k) through work with a match, take advantage of that match, because free money is the best money when it comes to saving. That’s for the long term. If you have a mid-term goal, like buying a home, investing some of your money into a diversified portfolio to help save for a down payment might make sense. Also try to keep three to six months of your expenses in an emergency savings account. It may earn only minimal interest, but you need something that’s “steady Eddie” that isn’t invested in the markets. One thing that is constant in life is change, so having an emergency fund will come in handy when the unexpected happens — like now. Those who have an emergency fund now are probably glad that they have one.
And if you have debt, pay as much of that debt off as possible right now, focusing on the highest-interest rate debt first. With a financial plan, you'll be able to balance all these different goals simultaneously. That’s why it’s so invaluable for a young person to have a tailored plan — you’re creating a foundation for future financial security.
What are a few key things you really want to drive home to Americans right now about their finances?
Diversification, diversification, diversification. I don't just mean diversification in asset classes, like owning stocks or bonds. I’m also including being invested in different parts of the world, like holding domestic and international assets. Having assets that are taxed in different ways is also important for your overall tax strategy. In addition, it’s a good idea to own some assets that aren’t tied to the stock market — permanent life insurance is a good example of such an asset.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what the markets will do short-term, so being prepared is necessary. There's a saying that goes, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” I think that can go for your finances, too. Being prepared with different types of assets and investment vehicles will help you during an uncertain time because it helps spread out your risk.
If you don't have a financial advisor, consider meeting up with one to create a diversified plan with the right insurance and investment strategies. Over the long run, that can really help recession-proof your money and protect against life’s twists and turns.