The Warren Buffett meme with versions of the legendary investor's advice to be fearful when others are greedy, and to be greedy when others are fearful, has been making the rounds on social media as the markets have rocked and rolled over the last few weeks.
There is logic in this advice. But not everyone is keen on stock market risk when so much is uncertain, especially job security. If you are part of a pair that makes joint financial decisions, figuring out what to do can be tricky.
This dilemma prompted a woman to ask me how she could convince her spouse to save and stop putting more money in stocks? It's a question that requires both people in the relationship to examine their tolerance for risk and to come to a compromise that makes them both feel secure.
Start with your why
“Please stop putting all our money into the stock market” isn’t going to go as far as, “our jobs are both vulnerable right now and we only have three months’ worth of living expenses set aside, and it would make me more comfortable if we focused on boosting our savings instead of investing.”
We all have different tolerances for risk, especially when it comes to our money. The investor in this relationship likely sees this as a big opportunity, while the saver wants more control.
Ask each other these questions
Engage in a discussion that helps you gauge your risk tolerance:
Realistically, how stable is your job?Over 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks and there are plenty of them that believed they were in fairly stable, recession-proof jobs. How well is your industry or company positioned in the current environment?
If we both lost our jobs tomorrow, how long can we pay all our bills? Even if you can file for unemployment, it could take weeks to get your first check, so how long are you able to cover yourself and would unemployment be enough to still make ends meet?
If you’re unsure about your risk tolerance, then you can simply Google “risk tolerance questionnaire” and find dozens of options.
Make a bare essentials budget
Use actual numbers to inform the choices you’re going to make about saving and investing right now. Sit down together and create your “bare essentials budget." This should include enough to meet your basic needs: shelter, food, transportation, medication, utilities, insurance and debt payments.
How healthy are your cash reserves?
The general rule of thumb is that you should have three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. And right now, it is better to be on the conservative side of that rule as we’re still unclear when, and if, millions will be able to go back to work.
Now, this emergency fund doesn’t have to be to your typical lifestyle. Just focus on that bare essentials budget number. For example, if you need $3,000 per month for the basics, then you should have $18,000 in savings as your emergency fund.
If you don't have at least six months of emergency savings, it would be wise to focus on contributing o retirement accounts as your investment strategy and redirect other money toward savings. That way, you're still investing, in a tax-advantaged way, plus boosting savings to appease the risk tolerance of the saver.
Should I invest in the stock market now?
There are a lot of reasons people are getting spooked by the stock market. For many of us millennials, it’s been a really smooth bull ride for the last decade, minus a few blips.
There are still people on solid financial footing who are primed to take advantage of the stock market. Perhaps these two both have secure jobs and a healthy emergency savings with six months of living expenses or more. Maybe the saver is wary of the stock market period and even more anxious now that it’s turbulent. It is critical for the saver (and all of us) to remember that the stock market is cyclical, and all its history indicates to us that the recent volatility will end and a bull market will return.
While it may very well make sense for this couple to keep investing in stocks, it’s also important to be mindful of how you’re investing. Now is probably not the time to try to teach yourself day trading or complicated investing techniques unless you are comfortable losing some money. To quote the Oracle of Omaha again: “Wall Street makes its money on activity. You make your money on inactivity.”
Erin Lowry is the author of "Broke Millennial Takes On Investing" and "Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together."