Stop the Fear, Take Action
These days, the TV and newspapers bombard us with dark and dreary headlines: “Outlook Darkens as Recession Deepens.” “U.S. Unemployment on the Rise.” “Foreclosures Up a Record 81 percent in 2008.” The statistics are true, but what does all this gloom and doom do for us? Besides creating more stress than we already feel, not much. So instead of worrying about what the future may hold, we want to encourage you to take action. Here are some tips from 10 experts—including a credit counselor, a Buddhist bishop, and a marriage and family therapist—on what you can do, minus the nail-biting.
Protect Your Small Business
part-owner of Ben Franklin Crafts and select Ace Hardware Hawaii stores
“For small-business owners there may be a silver lining in this downturn: It’s an opportunity to reaffirm why they became independent business persons to begin with. I’m assuming that there’s a passion behind the businesses they operate or the services they provide to their customers. Go back to those foundations and philosophies and focus on those basic values.
This downturn can also shift the focus back to satisfying your customers. Often, we have the perception that price is the single biggest factor determining where people take their business. In fact, customer service, which means treating people as you would like to be treated and letting them know how important their patronage and satisfaction are to the success of your business, will bring them back on a repeat basis.
Running a business operation takes discipline and a keen attention to the key numbers that drive the business. It’s easy to get caught up in running a business based on emotion, what we like or dislike, or to get sidetracked on small, noncritical issues. In a difficult economy, independent business owners need to pay particular attention to the critical numbers—sales, gross profit margins and expenses—and make decisions that will improve their operations.
Communicate with your staff, as well. Share your thoughts and concerns with them; they are a crucial element in helping you meet current challenges.”
Make Yourself Employable and Retainable
director of the Counseling and Student Development Center at UH Manoa, shares these tips:
Invest time and effort to get back in touch with former bosses, friends, colleagues or acquaintances.
Effectively network with your contacts to learn about opportunities and, if you’re currently on the market, follow up with each lead.
Sharpen Your Skills.
Take adult education classes, attend conferences or continue your professional development by reading industry publications, books and online articles.
Evaluate Your Expertise.
Consider the skills that you have developed in your current employment and transfer them to career opportunities in high-growth industries, such as healthcare, social assistance, public and private educational services, information technology, and communications.
Maintain Your Online Presence.
What will a potential employer find if they Google your name? In the current job market, many avenues are used to gather information on prospective employees. Think about branding yourself online with a Web site highlighting your experience and qualifications. Or, establish a profile on a professional or social networking site, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
Update Your Resume and Cover Letter.
Personalization is key. Highlight qualifications for which your target companies are looking, and include quantifiable results of your work, such as percentages, dollar amounts, demonstrated gains or comparisons.
temple bishop at the Boyodo-In Temple
“Sometimes we grumble because we have many different difficulties. But instead of grumbling, why don’t we look at things another way and appreciate more what we do have. It is in the middle of our difficulties that we can appreciate what we are given. In Buddhism, tomorrow never comes. Everyday life is what is important.”
Escape From Your Debt
executive director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii
“Frame your situation into something manageable by getting organized. First, create totals of the following:
1) a budget that includes all sources of income after taxes
2) expenses that reflect your current lifestyle—and you must be honest
3) an accounting of all debts, such as credit cards, loans, medical bills, past-due utility bills, etc.
Then return to the budget and determine where to adjust spending, giving priority to basic necessities like housing, food and medical care. This simple step provides clarity and enables you to make choices that empower you.
To pay a creditor with money that should be used to prevent your electricity from being shut off, or that would help to avoid foreclosure or eviction, would be a mistake. If this is your situation, you must communicate it with your lenders with the promise that, when you financial situation improves, you intend to get back on track. Remember, it’s in the lenders’ best interest to work with their borrowers. They can’t help you if you are avoiding them.
The reality of our current economic turbulence is that many people’s credit histories will suffer. Paying bills on time is important, but keep it in perspective. I have yet to read an obituary that listed having a high FICO score as one of life’s more important milestones.”
Help your Neighbor
president and CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation
“Every time the economy goes bad, it creates a higher demand for services in the non-profit communities, such as at food banks or homeless shelters. If you have the ability to contribute to your favorite charity or cause, by all means do so. If you already contribute, keep donations at the same level. Now, more than ever, people really need the help.
If you can’t give money, give your time. For example, volunteer at Meals on Wheels, senior centers, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, or the YMCA and YWCA. Finally, help your neighbors and loved ones. All of us know people who are going through tough times right now. Cook them dinner or offer to babysit. Small things can make a big difference.
We all have the basic desire to know that our lives matter to more than just ourselves. You’ll find that reaching out can give great meaning and satisfaction to your own life.”
Patricia Avila MD, MPH
medical director of Online Care/Care Management at HMSA.
Maintain regular exercise.
If you don’t have a routine, start one. Exercise is very important in alleviating stress and it makes you feel good.
When we are stressed, we start grabbing for comfort food, such as fast food, which can be expensive and unhealthy. Take this as an opportunity to cook at home.
Keep a regular schedule.
If you are unemployed, or not working as much as you’d like, this will help to eliminate stress. Get up at a certain time, schedule when you’re going to search for employment, and continue socializing with friends, which has proven to be very beneficial in keeping one healthy.
Don’t skimp on preventive medicine.
Continue to take prescribed medication. Keep your mammogram, Pap smear, flu shot and colon-cancer screening appointments. Remember, if a disease is noticed in its early stages, treatment is far more effective.
Address your financial picture straight on.
We tend to ignore the things that are causing us anxiety. In this case, sweeping money matters under the carpet can only cause difficulties to proliferate.
Look into social communities for support.
Visit your local community clinic or connect with your church to find out about healthcare programs. (Also check out HMSA’s new low-cost, online care, available to both HMSA members and non-members, at www.hmsa.com.)
Use This Time to Your Advantage
senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship
“In the Bible, the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life is lived in seasons. Recession is like the coming of winter, a season of scarcity and a shortage of financial fruit.
But even if the economy is dormant, it doesn’t mean that our lives need to be polarized. Farmers know that winter has its own purpose: a time to repair broken tools, maintain equipment and grease the tractors. Likewise, a recession reminds us that there are relationships that might need some deepening, mending that needs to be done and accounts to be put in order.
In times of plenty, we tend to lose sight of what matters the most: marriage, family, friendships, health, and faith. Without these, money alone would lose its value. I often remind people of the futility of having a billion dollars in gold, three mansions, or five swimming pools, if you had to live alone on an island, isolated from people for the rest of your life. Prosperity only makes sense in the context of healthy relationships.
During times like these, convert what would otherwise be a worrisome period into a season that will cause us to be even more fruitful when the sun begins to shine again."
Nurture Your Relationships
Jeffrie L. Wagner
licensed marriage and family therapist and president of the Hawaii Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
“When things get tough, we, as human beings, and especially men, tend to isolate ourselves. We say things like, ‘Leave me alone, I need to figure this out.’ But that’s when depression and anxiety and all of the things that you don’t want to happen come into play.
Instead, communicate when there’s been a job loss or there are concerns that may affect the family. Spouses should come together with their children and extended family members to brainstorm ideas on how to work things out. Middle-school and older children will already understand that something is happening, so bring them into the conversation and decision-making.
During these times, also take the opportunity to rebuild the basic infrastructure that allows your family members to interact with each other. Have dinner at home together at least a couple of times a week. Go to the beach, go camping, hiking, surfing, whatever it is that your family enjoys. It’s about returning to old-fashioned family values.”
Keep Love and Romance Alive
Martha “Marti” Barham
psychologist and sex therapist
“Sit down with your partner and each of you write down the five qualities that you find most important in a positive relationship, such as commitment, friendship, love, intimacy, or more time together, and define exactly what each thing means to you.
By doing this, it helps you to be really aware of what the other person holds important and significant; it opens up communication, which is important both in and out of the bedroom. Couples begin to realize what can be useful to their partner at this time.
When there’s a mutual problem, the trick is not to blame each other for the mess you’re in, rather use the energy to come up with a solution for how you’re going to address it together.
If there’s fighting in the kitchen, there’s going to be fighting in the bedroom. Intimacy and sexual expression is free; it should be fun and if you are allowing problems outside of the bedroom to interfere, you are not going to have pleasure that is available to you.”
Take a Fresh Look at Investments
financial planner, Golden Years Retirement Specialists
“If you are planning for retirement, now is the time to revisit your old plan in light of the extraordinary global changes. You may have made assumptions that are unrealistic. Sit down with your financial adviser and reevaluate so that you will end up in a better place in the months and years ahead. Look at when you will retire, where you will retire, how much you will have when you retire—all of these questions need answers.
More immediately, in times like these, you may find yourself in need of cash and you may have to sell something that you never thought you would, such as real estate, or stocks and bonds. Selling an investment can be a better option than depleting your retirement fund because withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax. Before you sell, calculate your taxable gain and make sure you consider tax-saving strategies. These are unusual transactions, and it may be smart to talk to your CPA about advantageous ways to structure the sale.
Refinance your home. Mortgage rates are lower than they’ve been in years. Refinancing now will mean you pay much less every month for the entire term of the loan. Do it soon, appraisers are busy and it may take weeks to get an appointment.
Also, take control and protect what you have. Otherwise, the loss resulting from your death or disability will be even worse than the loss you have recently experienced. Get your affairs in order so that your family doesn’t have to pay all of the taxes and professional fees to sort out your mess. Protect your legacy or you may not have one.”