Ever since Donald Trump became President-elect in November, pundits have been postulating as to how his first 100 days in office will affect your wallet. Absent a crystal ball, nobody really knows. But that needn’t derail your financial plan.
True, Trump’s campaign promised significant changes. The election upset itself was proof that uncertainty is our constant companion. If that wasn’t enough of a reminder, the contrarian reaction of world markets dramatically reinforced this lesson. The upshot?
1. Changes are afoot.
2. Trying to predict them is a fool’s errand.
3. The smart money is in accepting that and acting accordingly.
If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it echoes the premise of the Serenity Prayer, which has served to guide people of all faiths through life’s ups and downs. It reads: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Taking this approach with your financial plan will serve you and your wallet well in your first 100 days post-inauguration and beyond.
As discord from the election cycle continues into Trump’s presidency, the serenity to accept the things you cannot change may be hard to come by for some Americans. Although this lack of control is unsettling, neither panic nor irrational exuberance is likely to enhance your financial security.
“Stay calm!” counsels Cary Carbonaro, MBA, CFP®, of United Capital of New York & New Jersey. “Whoever is in Washington should not affect your day-to-day financial life and goals. Don’t make any rash decisions about selling your entire portfolio and going to cash to wait and see what happens.”
Trump’s inauguration speech reinforced his message of significant change. Your mission is to have the courage to stay the course regardless. “If you have a solid financial plan you believe in, you’re not likely to get shaken by what’s going on in politics,” observes Joe Morgan, CFA, CFP®, of JWM Wealth Management. ”You have to have a philosophy behind how your money is being managed. If something external happens that makes you question it, maybe it’s time to reevaluate.”
If you don’t have a plan that you believe will get you to your goals, now is as good a time as any to find the courage to change that. Regardless of what’s going on in the world around you, that means controlling what you can and establishing strategies to manage what you can’t.
Things you can control include personal expenses, savings rate, credit rating, and investment costs for starters. Be sure to double check these, as they have a tendency to masquerade as things you can’t control when left to their own devices. Better still, automate this process. For tools to help, check out this comprehensive review from the “grandfather of personal finance blogging,” J.D. Roth of Money Boss.
Among the things you can’t control are bad luck, market movements, and tax rates. So confirm you have protected yourself against these risks by maintaining an adequate emergency fund, insuring against large losses, and investing in strategies that suit your needs and temperament.
Staying the course does not mean ”set it and forget it” forever. The ability to adapt is key to thriving in changing environments. This involves working around new threats, but also making the most of new opportunities.
A good money manager does the same by periodically scanning for shifts in the environment. For the foreseeable future, the obvious candidates for change are the tax code and healthcare benefits, but there could be many other unexpected shifts as well. As each comes to pass, how do you know whether to sit tight or take action?
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“A smart guy said presidential elections are won and lost on one square foot of real estate: up here.” So uttered fictitious White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on “The West Wing” as he pointed to his forehead. The same could be said of the quest to reach personal financial goals. Luckily, there are myriad affordable resources to help you educate yourself and stay rational, focused, and strategic about your money.
You don’t even have to leave this blog to get started. Articles such as How Should I Respond to Volatile Markets? will help you keep your eyes on the prize and your feet on the ground. Also check out the list of classic personal finance books to go more in-depth.
Morgan especially likes Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth. Author Nick Murray argues that disciplined investor behavior, not investment performance, is what makes or breaks a financial plan. In his view, guiding clients to maintain that discipline through thick and thin is a financial advisor’s most important role. Carbonaro agrees: “Work with an advisor who will calm you and hopefully prevent you from making poor choices.”
When all is said and done, Donald Trump may end up defying conventional wisdom in his administration just as he did in his campaign. No matter what happens, a good dose of serenity, courage, and wisdom will help keep your financial plan on track well beyond the first 100 days after Trump’s inauguration.