When I experienced my first recession…
When the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 struck, I remember being a young 12-year-old, barely knowing what had happened. For the most part, it didn’t affect me.
I continued to eat out, to play, and to buy the things I wanted. Of course, I was only a 12-year-old and was well-supported by my parents.
But as rumours of a recession loom today, in 2022, it may seem like there are some things we need to do to better prepare ourselves for it.
What can we do? But more importantly, what should we not do?
Before I start, I want to be honest. I’m 26. I can’t say I’ve lived or invested through many recessions, but as a current business owner, I hope the insights that I share will be helpful in your own decisions for your finances.
23rd March 2020 was the date markets crashed as the news of COVID-19 spread around the world.
You may have been tempted to hold back on your spending, especially as businesses began to cut back. You didn’t know if you would keep your job.
It was the same for me. Having just entered a job in October 2019, April 2020 was the time I had my post-probation interview. I thought I would fail, and end up leaving my company. I felt I had done significantly badly to warrant the sack.
I had been that bad that I had warranted a scolding from an intern. An intern!
You can imagine.
But what did I do?
I invested more money in the markets, recognising that this was a unique time in history.
I had invested $12000 in January 2020, as markets were peaking.
But in April, I invested another $4000 in the markets. This may not seem like big sums, but at that time, faced with the prospect of losing my job, this seemed like the most stupid thing to do.
I drew many lessons from doing that, which I want to share today.
Relax before a recession
Whilst everyone else around you is losing their heads as the markets gyrate, or over the drop in their investments, keep your head screwed tightly on.
Stop looking at the daily quoted values of your investments. Benjamin Graham’s great book, The Intelligent Investor, talks about how a fictionary Mr Market brings you daily quoted values. Some days, he may lose his head, bringing you a discounted price way below the sums of what the business is worth.
Other days, he may be very optimistic, bringing you a price that is sky-high.
Stop listening to Mr Market.
Delete that investment app off your phone
The next thing to do is to introduce more friction to your investment process, by deleting the investment app off your phone. Today, with the ubiquity of fast brokers, you can easily buy and sell at the click of a few buttons.
Preparing for a recession means being willing to hold through the troughs, so that you catch the highs. Selling low, and buying high is something no one wants to do, but which we end up often doing because of how we often look at the prices quoted to us.
The investment app brings you daily quoted prices, that may result in more anxiety for yourself. Why do that to yourself.
Live life normally
Honestly, preparing for a recession can seem like it’s time for us to tighten our belts, find pennies to save, and preparing for the worst to strike us.
That’s not very wise.
Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
Going from supermarket to supermarket to save a few dollars, may seem good in the short term, but can end up costing you in the longer term. You’re losing something you’ll never get back – time.
Governments can always print more money, but they can’t always print more time.
Spending that time on improving your skills, so that you can earn greater amounts in future, is really important.
Become better at what you already do
As Naval Ravikant once said,
Become the best in the world at what you do,
keep redefining what you do until this is true.
Trying to find the best deal may not be as good as finding the best way you contribute to this world.
For example, the past few years starting a business from the ground up has been incredibly hard, and there have been times when people have not been willing to pay any money for what I’m doing.
That has been incredibly difficult. It’s meant that I’ve been forced to try and save pennies, hopping from supermarket to supermarket to find cheaper deals.
But over the past few months, I’ve begun to see that our business has started having breakthroughs because of how we’ve been able to refine what we do, and become the best at what we do.
For example, a few months ago, we were tempted to abandon the media business and the money we earned from writing articles because it felt like that was not a scalable business.
But as we did more writing, we found that more businesses were discovering us from the writing we did, rather than the other things we were doing. By focusing on that, we grew our revenues 3-fold.
Enjoy yourself with inexpensive activities
COVID-19 led me to see how much stupid money I had spent on flying around the planet, finding new places to enjoy. It led me to find new things to do in Singapore. And I’ve enjoyed myself much more than I did flying around to new places to visit.
Whilst there’s much joy in travelling, growing up, I never sat on a plane until I was 17. I remember that the most exciting moments were spent preparing for our yearly trips to Malaysia.
I would pack my bags a week before, hang up my clothes the night before, wake at 5am, and then bathe. Those were really exciting times. But somehow as I grew up and sitting on planes became more and more normalised, I no longer saw the beauty of such inexpensive trips.
There’s a beauty in enjoying the small pleasures in life, rather than constantly searching for big and expensive experiences. After a while, you will realise that it all feels, well, the same.
I’ve never enjoyed myself as much as the past few months, spent playing soccer at the park with kids, or walking along the beach at night, or rollerblading with friends.
Preparing for a recession can mean refining the simple pleasures of life.
Enjoying the small things in life
Recently, when my church organised a staycation to Sentosa, I found myself feeling excited again, like a little child preparing to go to Malaysia all over again.
And sometimes as we grow up, and we think about the tens of thousands of dollars that we have, how to protect our wealth, and how to grow it, we may forget that perhaps preparing for a recession is less about preserving one’s wealth, as it is about enjoying the wealth we have, right now.
Don’t let circumstances take you away from enjoying the life that you have in front of you. There’s already so much to worry about in life. Don’t let a recession be another one.