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Money Matters: Five tips to weather the COVID-19 recession

by Jake Pence

The National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee has officially announced that the United States has entered a recession. The United States has seen a record 128 consecutive months of economic expansion before COVID-19 bottlenecked the nation’s physical, mental, and economic health. However, this article is not going to be a COVID-19 or recession pity party; in fact, it will be quite the opposite as a mentor once told me, "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

Before we dive into the weeds, let’s preface these tips with the fundamentals of money management in a recession. First, you must live within your means and minimize discretionary spending. Second, you must prioritize saving and building an emergency fund of at least six months worth of expenses.

Third, you must continue to make your debt payments. If you want to learn more about any of those fundamentals then you’re a google search away, but my goal is to give you tangible, long-term tactics that will set you up for success both during and after this recession.


To effectively live within your means, you must understand where your money is going and be proactive with your cash flow management. In the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, he wrote, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Well … it’s time to confront the brutal facts about your spending and adjust your budget accordingly.

Whether your budget is in an excel document, on a piece of paper, or in your head, it is important that you have an understanding of the money you earn and the money you spend. In a recession, it can be difficult to earn more money; therefore, it is important to spend less money.

You can do this by checking your bank account, credit cards, and wallet on a weekly basis to see how much money you spent and what you spent it on. This will allow you to confront the brutal facts of your spending and identify what is necessary (groceries, housing, insurance, etc.) and what is discretionary (eating out, new clothes, subscription services, etc.).


Recessions affect almost every nook and cranny of the economy, especially credit markets. When credit markets tighten, it becomes difficult to get approved for a mortgage, car loan, credit card, or any other type of financing. Although it may be difficult, it is NOT impossible to gain access to financing in a recession. Access to financing is often what separates individuals who capitalize on the opportunities a recession presents, discounted asset prices, from those who don’t. Consequently, individuals with strong credit scores will be first in line at the credit market.

Your credit score consists of five components: total accounts, length of credit, credit inquiries, utilization rate, and missed payments. The most important components are the credit utilization rate and missed payments. To best explain your credit utilization rate, let’s say you have a credit card with a $1,000 credit line and a $500 current balance. This is equal to a 50% credit utilization rate ($500/$1,000).

You should maintain less than a 30% utilization rate across all forms of credit to improve your score. Missed payments are self-explanatory; however, it may become tempting to skip a credit card payment when times are tough. Do not give into this temptation as missed payments are the most important component of your credit score and will affect your score long after the recession ends.


Does the word "taxes" make you cringe? Cry? Worse? Well … taxes, taxes, taxes. For most individuals, taxes will be the greatest expense over the course of their lifetime. However, there are many LEGAL ways to pay less taxes so that you can keep more of your hard earned money.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of the United States tax code discusses how to legally reduce your taxes. You do not need to read the entire tax code, but you need to talk with an accountant who (hopefully) understands the tax code and will create an efficient tax plan for your unique situation. There is a critical difference between an accountant who prepares your taxes and an accountant who prepares your taxes and minimizes your taxable income through proper tax planning. When you can no longer increase your income or reduce your expenses, then focus on (legally) keeping more of your money.

If you don’t currently have an accountant or you file using a free online platform, then simply start by scheduling a meeting with a local accountant to review your financial situation. Most accounting firms will offer a free consultation to decide whether or not you will benefit from tax planning.

One other critical tip, you often will get what you pay for in terms of accountants and not all accountants are created equally. Don’t be afraid to pay a little extra for a great accountant who saves you far more money than a cheaper alternative, so be sure to focus on how much they save you rather than how much they cost you.


The purpose of diversification is to mitigate your risk. There is risk associated with any investment, and that risk is amplified in an economic downturn. Therefore, it is important to have a variety of investments in your portfolio. For example, if the stock market crashes and you have 100% of your investment portfolio in stocks, then your portfolio value will take a tremendous hit.

Alternatively, if the stock market crashes and you have 50% of your investment portfolio in stocks, 25% in bonds, and 25% in real estate, then your portfolio will not be as severely affected. When it comes to your financial portfolio, it is important to spread your eggs in a variety of baskets rather than loading them all into one basket.

Diversification can be done within each asset class. Let’s take a look at the 50% stocks, 25% bonds, and 25% real estate portfolio as an example. Within the 50% of your portfolio allocated to stocks, you should own stocks from different industries with a range of company valuations. An example would be owning shares of Amazon (e-commerce), Visa (financial services), and Caterpillar (industrial).

Within your 25% bond holdings, you can get a CD from a local bank or buy a government municipal bond; within your 25% real estate portfolio, you can own a single family home rental property in St. Joseph, IL and a duplex rental property in Champaign, IL. A few asset classes that you should consider investing in are stocks, exchange traded funds, bonds, real estate, real estate syndications, and precious metals such as gold and silver. Overall, prioritize diversification so when one sector of the economy is negatively affected, all of your chickens don’t come home to roost.


If you’re going to take away anything from this article then let it be this: don’t become emotional with your finances due to the recession. The next few years contain a lot of uncertainty, but don’t lose sight of your long-term financial plan and jeopardize your long-term financial security due to short-term economic events.

Whether this recession lasts 6 months to 3 years, it is still a very small period of your life. Make the necessary adjustments to your portfolio, live within your means, and actively manage your cash flow; however, do not become emotional and make rash decisions that will affect you long after this recession ends. We are in this for the long-haul.

Warren Buffett is a world-renowned investor and once said, "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked." Well … the tide is making its way out and time will tell who has prepared for this moment. If you feel vulnerable, then don’t become emotional or make rash decisions. Instead, cover yourself up while you still have time and make sure that you too, don’t let a good crisis go to waste.

About the author:
• Jake Pence is the President of Blue Chip Real Estate and a consultant for Fairlawn Capital, Inc.. A 2019 graduate from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, he is a 2016 graduate from St. Joseph-Ogden High School where he was a three-sport athlete for the Spartans. You can view his latest acquisitions and advice on his YouTube channel here.

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