As we continue to claw our way out of the credit crisis while contending with an economic recession, I need you to be able to see the big picture: Though these are rocky times, our economy will be fine. Our markets will recover. We will all survive. That said, I want to be very clear: The recovery is not going to be quick or easy.
Our economy is like a patient who was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. After months of aggressive intervention (by the Federal Reserve, the Department of Treasury, and Congress), the patient is still in the Intensive Care Unit, but the prognosis is that eventually there will be a full recovery. In time, the patient will move into a rehabilitation facility and start to get back on his or her feet. Before too long, the patient will be stable enough to go home, though it might be years before he or she is back to full health.
When exactly will that be? That’s impossible to say with any certainty. My sense is that we could be in for a long, slow period of recovery and it will be 2014 or 2015 before the economy is back in robust good health. Between now and then, we could see parts of our economy get better faster than others, and certainly some regions will start their housing rebound before others. I also expect there could be large market rallies throughout a rocky recovery. It is also important to understand that the stock market is very different than the economy. Just because the market rallies, it doesn’t mean the economy is healthy. But in terms of when we will see a lasting and consistent return to growth, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if that takes five years or more.
So if we’re not going to see a quick turnaround of the economy in 2009, why am I insisting that you take action? Precisely because we are in for tough times. You need to protect what you have. Protect your family. And protect your chances of still reaching your long-term goals. Let’s face it, in the past you didn’t really have to work too hard at building financial security. You plowed money into your 401(k) and IRA in the 1990s and you watched the market post an annualized gain of 18 %. At that rate, you figured early retirement was a distinct possibility. Then, in 2000, the real estate bubble began and you got used to annual price gains of 10 % or more. It was easy to feel like you had it made.
And yet here we are. The major stock market benchmark indexes have fallen back to where they were in 1998. Home values, on average, have already slid back to their 2004 levels, and I expect we have more downside to get through before real estate stabilizes. My point is, you just can’t show up and expect easy market gains to get you where you want to go. The days of easy money are long gone.
But, my friends, haven’t I always said that when it comes to your money, it’s not about doing what’s easy—it’s about doing what’s right? The plan in this book is going to help you do what’s right. You can read this book cover to cover, go directly to the topic that worries you the most, or skip around as you see fit. No matter how you approach it, the goal is for you to make the right moves in 2009 to alleviate the stress, fear, and anger you’re fee ling and replace it with the secure sense that you have done what it takes to protect yourself, the money you have worked so hard for, and the ones you love.