Five Ways to Escape the Economic Chokehold

Five Ways to Escape the Economic Chokehold

In the past few weeks, the nation has been in the grip of a financial crisis that has shaken once mighty Wall Street institutions to the core, while Americans on Main Street nervously bite their nails.

“People are waking up from a gigantic hangover, trying to figure out what’s next,” John Schloegel, vice president of investment strategies for Austin-based Capital Cities Asset Management, told Reuters recently.

Frankly, the entire year has been one giant hangover for many Americans who have watched food and fuel prices elevate and their 401k’s and home values deflate. They’ve been whipsawed by fear that achieving affluence and a better world for their children has been derailed. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C. think tank, the current financial stall marked the first time since World War II that the typical family was worse off at the end of an economic expansion than at the start.

This year’s economic malaise has kept survey takers busy, as the media and corporate America have relied on the value of tapping into consumer sentiment and employee satisfaction. Companies like Texas-based National Business Research Institute have seen a spike in surveys, as most belt-tightening companies see third-party survey firms preferable to doing them in-house.

With no clear sign of stability in the near-future, making time for free business management advice from experts is always something worth investing in. The following includes the top five ways for surviving tough economic times:

Panic Beyond the Disco

This is nervous time for many Americans, who have their hand poised over the panic button. Is this a sign of another Great Depression? No one can agree on that answer. Clearly, this is one financial crisis that doesn’t come with a playbook.

Now would be a good time to pull back from the panic. Putting ideas into a new strategy is the place to start.

“Stick to well-grounded policies that are thought out before times get even tougher,” says Jeffrey Lambert, a California-based certified financial planner and a founding principal of Lighthouse Financial Planning. “Above all, don’t panic. Stay in the moment and stay grounded.”

Minimize Money Stress

Financial woes not only take a toll on your wallet, they can also wreck havoc on your body. Talk about your trickle-down theory.

Researchers say the economic decline can take a heavy toll on your heart, especially if you are already at risk for cardiac problems.

In a recent article from Health.com, Louise Hawkley, a PhD and associate director of the Social Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Chicago, warns that stress can be a killer, and money problems are one of the most common ways we get stressed out.

“Financial stress can cause your whole cardiovascular system to be off,” Hawkley told Health.com. “Elevated stress hormones constrict the blood vessels and create a vicious cycle where blood scrapes the cells and aggravates atherosclerotic plaque, which increases your risk for a cardiovascular event like a heart attack.”

Financial stress also contributes to behavior proven to increase heart disease risk, according to studies. Smokers, for example, are 13% less likely to quit during economic hard times, and ex-smokers are more likely to relapse. Drinkers tend to drink more, which drives up blood pressure, and alcoholics who have quit drinking are more prone to relapse when exposed to chronic stress.

“Breathe, love and smile knowing that these times will pass,” says Lambert. “You have to take steps to put yourself in a better position and respond to the crisis, but health is much more important than money and people must remember that. Economic cycles always come and go, but if you lose your health, you’ve lost everything.”

Buying Quality Is Job 1.

In the short-term, no one can predict the direction of the markets. Take this year, for example. As 2007 closed out, consensus among financial pundits was that the first half of 2008 would be rough, but things would pick up at the end of the year. With three months left to go, things are really going to have to pick up to make that prediction ring true.

In good times, or bad, consumers should stick to quality investments, looking at companies that have solid footing in market leadership, have visible earnings, are actively traded, and have sufficient financial stability.

“Always buy quality,” said Lambert. “Whether its consumer items or investments, sticking to this principle will pay off in the long run.”

Money Matters, But Not All the Time

While the economy takes its roller-coaster ride, it’s important to remember that life goes on. If you’re looking to hunker down and cut the household budget, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your entirely livelihood.

“Look for ways to have fun with those who are important to you that are inexpensive or free,” said Lambert. “It would be great to be able to afford everything and be able to do what you wanted to all the time, but that’s simply not a reality for most of us. And it doesn’t mean life has to stop on a dime. There are plenty of rewarding activities that can enrich your life and not break the bank.”

Movies, museums, bowling, beach outings, potluck parties and playing board games are all relatively inexpensive and can keep any family entertained. A tight budget doesn’t have to get in the way of having a great time.

Hit the Refresh Button on Your Skills

Outsourcing, cutbacks and layoffs are simply a reality in today’s job market. But you don’t have to just sit around and take it.

The Boy Scout motto of being prepared should apply to everyone who currently has a job. Job security is a thing of the past, so while you’re still employed, take the time to network and decide what to do and where you want to work next. Lay the groundwork for improving your current skills, keeping the resume fresh and having a plan for career change if necessary.

“Educate and train yourself to be more valuable to your current or future employer,” said Lambert. “You have to keep refreshing your skills to make yourself as marketable as possible.”

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