Riding Out a Recession

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

US economic news these days ain't good... housing and construction are down, unemployment's up, the dollar's weak, retail sales over the holidays stunk. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says he's not forecasting a recession, but his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, disagrees. Only time will tell who's right, but if the word "recession" gives you cold sweats, you may be wondering what you can do on a personal level to batten down the hatches and weather whatever comes our way. If you have a contingency plan, we want to hear it: socking away money in your mattress to forestall a layoff? Attending night school to transition into a less risky career, just in case? Even if you're just trying not to think about it, tell us why.



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Should I go into physical Therapy School? are only nurses and Dr.s seeing more jobs in the net 20 years?

Sent by grahm | 2:10 PM | 1-15-2008

3 to 6 month cash living expenses? What fantasy universe does this pundit live in?

Sent by M.Werner | 2:12 PM | 1-15-2008

This past fall I started work as a middle school teacher in Florida. This school is struggling academically, and I found the discipline problems and overcrowded classrooms to be too much to bear. I quit in hopes of teaching in a better school, or at least an elementary school. Unfortunately the district put a hold on hiring because the money is tied up in the subprime mortgage crisis. Am I a casualty of this impending recession-already?

Sent by Catherine | 2:25 PM | 1-15-2008

My husband and I have a financial "circle." By having multiple irons in the fire at once, we can handle it if one cools off for a while -the others keep us afloat. Whether its selling on eBay, doing side jobs on the weekend, or shopping at the Goodwill to keep money in our pockets - we do what needs to be done to pay for today and save for tomorrow. In today's consumer age, we imagine that we need (or deserve) so much more than we really do.

Sent by Blake Simas | 2:26 PM | 1-15-2008

I absolutely hate it when people talk about vacation teachers get and how they can work during their vacations. Teaching is the only career I know that gives you 2 1/2 months off each year so you can work at better paying job to make ends meet.

Sent by Lisa Twitchell | 2:31 PM | 1-15-2008

I've contemplating to go in the restaurant industry by being a chef. How's the outlook of that field? Currently I work as an Application Developer.

Oh and M.Werner 3-6 months is possible. It won't happen overnight, but if you put money away every paycheck you'll get there in a few years.


Sent by Y. Ali | 2:33 PM | 1-15-2008

I think investing in oneself through attaining a higher education is probably the best thing someone can do for themselves. It makes the individual more marketable and allows many job opportunities to open up that are more on the secure end. This will be a key in helping people avoid being out of jobs and continued opportunities. Investing begins at home. Great topic!

Sent by Tania Contreras | 2:36 PM | 1-15-2008

Is it fair to say, that the current sub prime housing problem, the drop in the market, and the general fear of recession are due to the fact that people were trying to live beyond their means and banks were willing to let them do it? And as a result those of us who do live within our means are made to suffer? or is it more complex that this?

Sent by Gary | 2:41 PM | 1-15-2008

The oil and gas industry is booming now, and salaries with these companies is quite high- geoscientists for example make 2x as much in oil/gas. Any thoughts on how energy companies will fair through a recession?

Sent by Jennifer | 6:50 PM | 1-15-2008

I just purchased my first home and my interest rate is 6 5/8 for a 30 yr fixed. I plan on being in this house for at least the next 10+ yrs should I consider re-financing if the interest rates drop? Steve - Delaware, Ohio

Sent by Steve | 10:17 AM | 1-16-2008

Why is so much "subprime marketing" to blame for the fall of the dollar, fall of the economy when never mentioned with expenditures like $12 billion a month spent on the administration's war fever, and subsequent borrowing around the world?

Sent by Joan | 12:23 PM | 1-16-2008

Do you breath-in constantly, without stop? Can you continue to suck-in air for hours on end? Neither can the economy build endlessly.
There will be times when the upward climb needs to "level-off" and regroup before the next climb.
As for the "contingency plan", pay-off your credit cards when times are good! Only use them when times are bad. (That is the reverse of what most people do.) Why? Because the great bargins are to be had at the END of a recession. When stores start cutting their prices to move product, that is when the economy wil start climbing again. (Those stores bought their inventory on "net 60/90 days" credit.)
As for saving 3-6 months of living expenses: Unless your a moron, and unable to control yourself, you can save 2 months of cash in one year. You may have to give-up Starbucks or Gucci.

Sent by Harold | 3:06 PM | 1-16-2008

The economic pressures facing the american economy are many and varied, but the basis of the current economy is consumerism and that is the factor that will make subprime defaults the nail in the coffin. American consumer power in recent years has been largely based on equity in homes. We have borrowed to the hilt with the expectation that increasing home equity will be our salvation. With the fall in home values caused by loan defaults and a glut of available homes produced in the housing boom that was allowed by subprime mortgages, The equity that fueled our consumer habits is disappearing. As consumerism stalls from the lack of easy cheap credit, so will the economic engine it fuels. We have been living in the emotional equivalent of the roaring 20's. Thirties anyone?

Sent by Jim | 4:11 PM | 1-16-2008

My advice is; slow down your consumption of foreign goods, buy local whenever possible, reduce your personal debt as fast as possible, and reduce your dependence on foreign oil. Voluntary changes are much more pallatable than those that are imposed.

Sent by Jim | 5:05 PM | 1-16-2008

I have a 401k in an agressive mix and two mutual funds that are weak. In today's market, how should one realocate my investments. I am 35 with a family.

Thank you,

Sent by pete | 11:36 AM | 1-17-2008

Hi, it's Steve Viscusi (stephen@viscusi.com), author of "On the Job: How to Make It in the Real World of Work" (Random House).

I was a guest on "Talk of the Nation" and wanted to join in on the Blogging.

First, some people may lose their job no doubt, although I think recessions are created by media- hype (including this), and not by people and the economy.

Look, firing can be very subjective. It is nice to say last hired, first fired or that it is based on performance, but let's face it, it is mostly about who the boss making the decisions gets along with. So accept that politics (brown-nosing) is a reality of life in order to stay on your boss' good side. Sorry, it is.

- Come in early and stay late
- Perfect the art of looking busy
- Stay in front of your boss (out of sight, out of mind)
- Don't take an extra long vacation

You can write directly to me with your questions at stephen@viscusi.com.

I have tried to answer some of the questions already on the NPR Blog:

- Yes, to physical therapy -- good value.

- To the teacher who can't find a job -- there are thousands of schools, keep trying other school districts. There are many recessions in schools.

- To the teacher who hates my talking about vacations -- Sorry. Teacher's receive a long vacation, and tenured teachers actually make a very good living, even with the vacation.

- Chef school -- great idea!

- Good idea about oil and gas jobs.

I wish I had the time to check this blog again, but I don't. (And stay off the internet at work if you don't want to lose your job!)

However, send me your career questions directly at stephen@viscusi.com or visit my website at www.viscusigroup.com.


Stephen P. Viscusi
The Viscusi Group
New York City

Sent by Stephen Viscusi | 1:03 PM | 1-17-2008

Oh wow. Great advice. Haven't read the book but I bet it is a gem. Couple of comments on tactics:

- Come in early and stay late

Excellent advice, but avoid a few pitfalls. For example, leaving early earns you a -1. Leaving on time earns you a 0. Leaving late earns you a +1 UNLESS you get caught by your boss while he/she is still in the building, making it apparent that you were just waiting for him/her to leave, in which case you get a -2.

- Perfect the art of "looking busy"

More excellent advice. As I was instruced by a mentor early in my career, "When you're headed out on an expedition to check out the cute chick in the office on the 5th floor, walk fast and carry something under your arm." Great advice.

- Stay "in front" of your boss (out of sight, out of mind)

More good advice, but careful, this can be overdone. Don't want to make a nuisance of yourself either by showing up toooo often or gaining a rep for bothering the boss with manufactured trivia.

- Don't take an extra long vacation

...or lunch break, or snack break, etc.


Sent by Thos | 3:09 PM | 1-17-2008

Hi, I stay at home with 3 young children and my husband, an engineer, works in the volatile semi-conductor industry. With the threat of recession and responsibility for young children we have had a plan in place for several years. First we have savings. Second, we live within our means. Third we set aside extra groceries each month- if money is tight one month, we won't worry about high grocery bills. Finally, my husband takes the difficult and undesirable jobs at work and turns them around-making him a valuable asset to the company. He also takes additional training assignments to R&D locations, which protects his job for a year or two after our return, enough time to recover from the worst of the layoffs. This has worked for us through 3 or 4 rounds of layoffs in the six and a half years he's been with his current employer.

Sent by desiree | 3:48 PM | 1-22-2008

Kudos to the article. This is one of the few articles that I have read that doesn't tell you to blindly hold on to your investments.
As far as getting out of debt and building wealth google Dave Ramsey, he has great advice for getting back on your feet.

Sent by Bill | 2:57 PM | 1-23-2008

After I was downsized and had to live on unemployment and no employment, I never again returned to the level of spending that I had before. My new economic life is a radical departure from my old one.
For the last eight years, I have cut my own hair. I only buy clothing at thrift shops, and I take all freebies. Even though my job now has medical benefits, I only go to the doctor if absolutely necessary.
I am still using my VCR. I buy old VHS movies for a couple of dollars, or borrow them from the library, which is close to my job. I only have the most basic cable.
My 1999 car has over 150,000 miles. I would love to have a new one, but I won't start shopping until I see more signs of death. I don't drive anywhere unless I have to, because gas prices are my worst expense.

Sent by Kathy | 1:16 PM | 3-10-2008

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