Everyone knows the Super Bowl will be upon us in little more than a week. In many ways, the event has become the new Thanksgiving, hasn’t it? That’s because the people you invite to a Super Bowl party are chosen. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, and the annual, fast-becoming-traditional, Super Bowl gathering is a gathering of friends.
Just like Thanksgiving, a traditional menu is evolving as well, usually centered around things like chili, chips and dips. This spreads the work among all attendees, so the hostess isn’t the only one expiring in front of the oven. When we lived in California, Noel was our primo Super Bowl party host, because he makes a killer white chicken chili and encourages everyone to see if they can make anything better. Great food, great company — even those who don’t care for football have a great time.
Social change is what the learned people call something like that: Fifty years ago, our society had no Super Bowl parties. Things were different then. Everyone grew up in nuclear families where dads held steady jobs with pensions and “change” was measured by the annual model enhancements meted out by General Motors and Ford. Now, the nuclear family consists of single-parent households (almost 30 percent, according to the 2012 Census), pensions are a relic of times gone by, and the Internet is replacing paper as a principal means of broadcasting news and staying in touch. Just as quickly as Facebook took over as the stay-in-touch method of choice, we now hear that teens are leaving in droves to adopt newer offerings like Instagram and Snapchat.
Change truly has become the only constant.
One thing is not changing, though — the economy. As I pointed out in 2014: Another good year?, the economy always moves in cycles — that will never change — and it prompts me to explore just how close we are to the next downturn.
From the first downturn to the recession bottom takes about two years. That means the downturn leading into a recession usually starts five to eight years after the previous bottom.
Our last bottom was 2009. Five years from then is when? It is now. In other words, we have officially entered the window for the next downturn.
Historically, the cycles last from seven to 10 years. The one we just came out of was a seven-year cycle (bottom-to-bottom was 2002 to 2009) and the recovery out of it was much slower than usual. That leads me to believe this cycle could be closer to 10 years than seven years.
But that still means that, at most, we’re about three years from the next downturn. It could happen earlier, because circumstances can change. Remember Super Bowl XLIV, when the Saints, down 10 to 6, surprised the world by starting the second half with an onside kick? That move was a game-changer. The Colts didn’t expect it, and they lost the game.
Now that you know to expect a downturn, there are a few things to do, or not do, to change the game in your favor.
1. Savings: You just found out you might have to field a surprise onside kick. It’s called a downturn. If you don’t have an emergency fund, this is the time to get one. If you have one, now is the time to fatten it up. This is the time of the economy when you have a little extra, compared with three or four years ago. The smart thing to do is to put that little extra in your emergency fund so that onside kick doesn’t make you lose the game.
3. Solidify your job status. Take on extra assignments at work, learn new skills, network with peers in other companies, and work a few extra minutes every day. When it comes time for layoffs, managers always grade employees on a curve. It may not be fair, but it is what it is. Your job security depends on being as close to the left of that bell curve as you can get. And now is the time to build that security; then is too late.
4. Do not trade up your home. Home prices are up and it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for an upgrade in your accommodations. An upgrade may feel good, but it’s bad economics. In times of rising prices, it’s good business to trade down if that’s what you want to do. Maybe the kids have left and you’re looking for something smaller. This is a good time for that, because the price gap between your existing and new home is at its greatest. That allows you to bring the highest amount of equity into your new (smaller) dwelling.
The best time to trade up is at the bottom of the next recession. You may feel bad then because your home price is so low, but remember that the home you’re buying is also at a low point. With both homes at their low points, the difference between them is at its lowest too. In other words, upgrading is at its cheapest in a recession…
… which you now know is not too far into the future.
CHANGE YOUR GAME PLAN
Time was when the thought of a recession sent shivers down the spine. No longer. Now that you know recessions are inevitable, you can prepare for the next one. That preparation entails not moving with the crowd, but in remembering that the crowd gets killed in a recession.
When you’re at the Super Bowl party next week, listen to the conversations. When Sally casually mentions the new bathroom remodeling she and hubby are doing, find out if they’re doing it with debt or from savings. If you see a new car in the driveway, don’t look. Yes, it’s beautiful and it smells really nice, but that beauty comes with a car loan. Pat your beater on the fender, tell it you love it, and ask for a few more years. In the next recession, you can get that shiny new car for 20 percent off or more.
Think ahead for a humorous way to deflect any questions coming your way at the party, questions about your remodel, your upgrade, your new car. Enjoy the chili and the commercials while you root for the Broncos, knowing your finances are in good shape for what’s coming.
Forewarned is forearmed.