Worried About Your Finances? In A Bad Economy, Worry Only About What You Can Control

A bad economy (can we call it a recession yet?) and worry go hand-in-hand. Case-in-point: My employer announced layoffs yesterday. I’m safe, but I immediately grew worried. Then I reminded myself of the advice I gave on Tuesday in a post about identity theft—worry only about what you can do something about.

I can keep showing value to my employer—but if they decide to axe me anyway, what else can I do? Here’s what you can do about your finances (and what you should worry about) and what you can’t do anything about (and shouldn’t worry about).

Five Things You Can Worry About

Your spending. You can’t always control what will happen to your job or your investments tomorrow, but you can control what you buy today. If you don’t have money to live off of for a few months if you lose your job, now is not the time for big purchases or spending beyond your means.

Your credit. The days of easy credit are over. It’s harder to get credit cards, a car loan, and a mortgage today, and I predict it will be for years to come. You can’t control how the lenders make their decisions, but you can control your credit score. Take an interest in what your score is and how you can make it better.

Your income. The problem is that most people think their income is out of their control. In reality, only you can determine how much (or how little) you will earn. No, you can’t usually change your income overnight. But there are a million ways to earn more money. Go back to school, change career fields, take on a second job, or start a business. You can say increasing your income isn’t easy (it’s not), but it is never, ever, ever out of your control.

Your job performance. You can’t control your company’s financial health, but you can control how valuable you are to your company. So demonstrate value to your employer. Valuable employees are rarely laid off. Don’t slack off, and take steps to ensure you brag a bit—hard work is worthless when it goes unnoticed.

Your debt and/or savings. Simply put, you can not worry about your finances if you’re not putting some money aside. Learn to live below your means and pay yourself first so that a financial emergency like a major bill or the loss of your job doesn’t ruin you.

Three Things You Can’t Worry About

The value of your home. Unfortunately, real estate values are mostly out of your hands. The market’s grim, and will take a while to get better. If you can buy a first home, do so. If you can delay on selling an existing home, do so. Otherwise, suck it up. The market is what it is.

Your 401(k). For twentysomethings, there’s no reason to worry about your 401(k) or other retirement accounts. Yes, they’re doing horribly. But you have so long to go before retirement, it’s not time to try to fix them—or to lose sleep over their performance. Disclaimer: For any readers closer to retirement, you can worry. I’d recommend seeking individual financial advice on what your options are.

The Dow going up and down and down again. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (or any other market index, for that matter) is not a barometer of the overall economy. Nor should it be a barometer of your personal financial security. We get bombarded with indexes’ performance numbers every day, but the truth is that the economy stunk long before the Dow tanked and the Dow can keep falling, but it does not definitely mean you are going to lose your job. Try to ignore daily negative news and keep plugging away.

What are you worried about? Are you doing anything about it? Can you do anything about it?

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


  1. I am the biggest worrier – but even I know it is a completely pointless exercise.

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