It's been a wild economic ride in recent months. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners have gone into "protection" mode in order to protect their financial health -- or at the very least put themselves in a stronger position to withstand a potential economic downturn.
In volatile economic times it can be even harder for entrepreneurs to endure nagging anxiety about their financial future. More than that, it's tough to change financial habits, adjust long-term goals, and deal with unexpected expenses during such volatility.
But, there's a lot you can do to make your financial situation more secure, whether in a recession or not. Here are five power moves you can make that will help keep your personal finances healthy.
1. Pay down debt.
Reducing your personal debt load and increasing your credit score is a high-priority financial goal these days. But, this is sensible in just about any economy. These days, however, given the uncertainty surrounding interest rates, getting out of debt is even more important.
Financial advisors recommend various strategies and plans for debt payments. You can use any strategy that works best for you, as long as you're consistent with it. However, it makes sense generally to focus on the debt with the highest interest rates. That tends to be consumer credit card debt.
As you successfully pay off a specific debt account, put the money you formerly paid to that creditor to good use. Many people use the "snowball" method and add it to the payment for the next creditor. Once you've eliminated high-interest rate debt, you can put that monthly cash towards an emergency fund, savings account, or more investments.
2. Make smart investments.
Have you made investments in stocks, whether in an individual bank account, a mutual fund or retirement account? Many people don't, and that's a mistake right now. Start small by signing up for one of the new apps that round up debit card purchase amounts and invest the excess for you.
If you do already invest, it's a good time to review and refine your retirement plans and make additional contributions to your accounts. Check with your CPA to find out what impact this will have on your taxes (see the next section). Also, increase the amount of your contribution each year so your fund at least keeps up with the rate of inflation.
Don't become invested in the stock market's volatility. Short-term changes can drive extreme behavior which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the market responds to that behavior. Most financial advisors will tell you to keep the long-term view squarely in mind when making financial decisions.
However, that's not an excuse to avoid keeping an eye on your investments altogether. Review your portfolio on a regular basis and make changes to your specific investments as your goals evolve.
3. Get tax smart.
Discuss your tax situation with a CPA or tax attorney who can help you make sense of any changes in U.S. tax laws. They can help you form a smart strategy boost your financial wellness in the coming year.
Remember, tax evasion is illegal but tax minimization is not. It's important in a thriving democracy for every citizen to pay their fair share of taxes. But, it's absolutely permissible to find ways to legally pay fewer taxes, thus increasing your cash on hand.
4. Consider your legacy.
Think about the estate you'll leave behind when you die. This is never a fun subject. Nobody enjoys thinking about what happens after their deaths. But, it's crucial to consider the practicalities and financial effects of your death on your loved ones.
Start by having a will drawn up for you if you don't have one already. If you do, consult your estate planning attorney about updating that will to reflect any life changes that have taken place since it was last reviewed.
You may also want to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about taking care of your dependents, possibly through the creation of living trusts, and about how that might change as those dependents grow.
Last but far from least, consider what happens to your business when you die. This will be affected by the kind of entity your business has adopted--i.e., sole proprietorship versus LLC. Considering these questions now will help you create the outcome you want.
5. Hire a professional.
Do financial planners seem like a luxury reserved to only the very rich? That's a common misperception, but in fact, small to midsized business owners benefit greatly from the advice of financial services professionals.
Certified financial planners can help you ensure that your money is working as hard as it can for you and that you're making good progress towards your financial goals. Once you're clear of large amounts of consumer debt and have an emergency fund stashed away equivalent to at least three months' worth of expenses, then your CFP can help you maximize your investments for larger goals, such as college tuition, real estate investing, travel plans, living expenses, and retirement funds.