First published in the July 2020 Equiery

The Equiery and Maryland Horse Council asked financial professionals, who also happen to be horse people, to give us their five top financial tips for individuals when coping with difficult economic times. Our experts work in different areas of the financial industry, but many of their tips are applicable for everyone.

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General Finances
by Jennifer Allen, CPA, J. Allen & Associates

When times are tough, as they are now — or anytime life throws you a financial curveball — focus on the small-but-mighty money savers that add up.

1) Cancel no- and low-benefit expenses you can do without, such as apps and other types of subscriptions, Amazon nice-to-haves, entertainment and other non-essentials.
2) Call credit card companies to ask about lower interest rates and a removal of any annual fees. They want to keep your business and often will renegotiate instead of losing you.
3) Do the same with your auto insurance and utility providers. Kill them with kindness and then ask what they can do to help you save a few dollars.
4) Soon, you’ll find yourself with some extra money on hand. Remove the temptation to spend it by making regular deposits in a rainy-day fund (any amount is great).
5) If you’re a business owner, move some of your company income into a separate bank account earmarked for profit. Then keep the habit going in the weeks to come.

By proactively making better choices, such as these, you’ll be more prepared next time. And there will be a next time.

Jennifer and her staff compete in the horse world as adult amateurs in a variety of disciplines, and they understand the unique requirements of the horse professional, as well as the professional who has horses.

Stock Market Investors
by Dawn Edgerton-Cameron, Financial Advisor, Edward Jones

1) Avoid the temptation to panic. Market pullbacks, while unsettling, don’t last forever. Downturns are a regular part of the market cycle and upturns always follow downturns. Also keep in mind that while there are no guarantees in the investment world, historically the upturns last much longer. While no one can predict when the recovery will come, when it does you’ll still want to be invested in the financial markets because the biggest gains usually occur in the earliest stages of a market rally. There’s a saying that successful investors get that way from “time in the market, not timing the market.” In other words, buy quality investments for the long term and stay invested throughout all parts of the market cycle rather than jumping in and out of investments with changing conditions.

2) Measure your progress against your goals. It may be tempting to look back longingly at the peak value of your portfolio, but anchoring to an interim number isn’t a good “measuring stick” of your financial situation. Instead, consider the overall progress you’ve made towards your goals since you first started investing. If you’ve been at it for quite some time (at least a decade) you’ll probably see that you’ve actually come a long way in spite of what’s happened recently. Bottom line: if your goals haven’t altered, then your strategy to achieve them shouldn’t either.

3) Put time on your side. Your portfolio strategy should balance the amount of money required to achieve your personal goals, the time until you want to achieve them, and your tolerance for risk. If you’re investing for goals you expect to be decades away, you have the advantage of time to overcome market downturns (even severe ones). In that case, if you were happy with your strategy before, keep your eyes on the distant horizon and stay the course. If you’ll need money from your portfolio for a shorter-term goal such as your next horse or a new trailer, keep those funds in more conservative investments like high quality bonds and government securities that offer greater protection of principle and are less susceptible to stock market fluctuations. Of course, you should always have some cash set aside in a “rainy day fund” to float you through difficult times like sudden unemployment or unexpected situations like emergency vet bills. Three to six months is ideal, but if you don’t have that yet, start with a smaller goal like $500 and once achieved, work up from there.

4) Benefit from diversification. Headlines show how much the major stock market indices like the Dow Jones Industrial Average have fallen. However, investors with properly balanced portfolios are not seeing the same level of decline as those whose holdings are almost entirely in stocks. Although diversification can’t prevent all losses or guarantee profits, it can reduce the impact of volatility and smooth out returns of your holdings. It may not be easy to look at your investment statements today, but review your portfolio to see if it is properly balanced between stocks, bonds and other investments in a way that reflects your unique goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon. If you’re not sure, consider consulting a financial advisor.

5) Go against the crowd. When prices are falling, it’s not hard to join the crowd and start selling in an attempt to “cut losses”. However, it’s important to remember that share price fluctuations are not losses unless you sell the assets and lock those losses in. Instead, consider that when the market is down prices of quality investments are often lower, making for compelling buying opportunities for investors who are in a position to take advantage of the situation and are willing to go against the crowd.

Dawn lives in Annapolis with her husband Perry and their Australian Shepherd “Dutch”. They moved here in 2011 to be closer to Navy football and be part of USEA Area 2 eventing. When she isn’t working, she’s (still) working her way up to Beginner Novice on an OTTB. She experienced first-hand what happens when families don’t have clear financial strategies to manage family transitions and knows the decisions made in times of crisis can impact you – positively or negatively – for a lifetime. As a result, after 25 years in corporate America she became a Financial Advisor to use the strategic thinking and consumer focus skills she’d developed to have a more direct impact on people’s lives as a trusted resource for clients and their families.

Home or Farm Owners
Keith Wills, Loan Officer, MidAtlantic Farm Credit

In today’s unprecedented environment, you may find yourself becoming more self-aware of your individual and/or family finances. As a loan officer, and someone who works with individuals like you on a daily basis, I want to share five quick tips to help you navigate your personal finance journey during this challenging time. Whether you’re a young adult just getting started or managing a family budget, these tips will help you as you assess your finances and plan for whatever the future may bring.

1. Reach Out to Your Creditors: If you’re experiencing financial stress, reach out to your creditors sooner rather than later. Keeping the lines of communication open is very important to both you and your financial institution. Start by reviewing any problems, so your creditors can help to provide potential relief and solutions they can offer.

2. Create a Budget: If you do not already have a personal budget, think about creating one. Knowing where your money is spent may help you to provide insight on where and what expenditures might be trimmed or eliminated, if your budget needs adjusted.

3. Review Your Credit Report: There are several services online that provide free credit reports. As a best management practice, plan to check your credit report annually. Make sure you know what is on your report and keep on the lookout for any suspicious activity.

4. Check-in with Your Credit Card Companies: Pick up the phone and give them a call to ask about potential interest rate reductions. Often, that’s all it takes to lower your interest rate and save money, which can greatly influence your expenses.

5. Remember to Practice Self-Care: Keeping yourself healthy during this stressful period of time is important. Remember to take time for yourself to recharge. You cannot operate at your best if you are not healthy. For Farm Credit members feeling anxious or stressed out, we encourage you to use our free Member Assistance Program to explore the counseling offerings. Please visit mafc.com/update for more details about the program.

Keith is a graduate of Towson University and the LEAD Maryland program. He has been with Farm Credit since 1993, and has served as a Board member for the Maryland Horse Council and the Maryland Agricultural Resource Council.

Although each of our experts is focused on a different aspect of the financial industry, their advice is applicable to most people because at its core, it is solid advice:

1) Don’t panic
2) Don’t ignore the problems until they become overwhelming
3) Taking small steps towards saving money can save a lot of money
4) Create and stick with your budget so you know where your money is going
5) Periodically re-evaluate your long range goals
6) Don’t hesitate to seek professional help