I quit investing in the stock market.
OK, just kidding, I didn’t really quit. I haven’t changed my retirement contributions in anyway (though I feel foolish every time I see a contribution go through, followed by the stock market falling even further). I left my retirement contributions alone because my time horizon gives me the the benefit of time, the one certain cure for this economic malaise.
However, we have stopped contributing to our taxable brokerage accounts simply because of how violent the market has become. Check out the CBOE volatility indices:
- VIX – S&P 500 Volatility Index
- VXN – Nasdaq 100 Volatility Index
- VXD – DJIA Volatility Index
The volatility indices show the market’s expectation for volatility over the next thirty days and as you can see on their charts, they’re at all time highs. That’s why we’re not putting in any more money, we are going to wait until things calm down before we add back in. (That account was for savings on items we need beyond the next five years)
So, without the stock market, the next question is where should we go with our savings?
Bolster The Emergency Fund
This is never a bad decision. With the economy the way it is, we should use any abundance we have left to start saving for potentially leaner months (or years) to come. If you listen to any experts, you might notice more and more are bolstering up their cash positions. As regular people, emergency funds (and CDs/High Yield Savings) are our cash positions and it’s never a bad idea to squirrel away a few nuts for the winter.
Pay Down Debt
If you have any debt, whether it’s a 6% mortgage or a 20% credit card, paying it down is a smart move. Some would say that you should invest your money and take advantage of the leverage, but I think that’s a little too risky given the volatility of the market. The rewards you will reap by getting rid of your debt will far outweigh the potential gains you’ll earn in our current market. I’m not saying that the money you put into the market will be lost, maybe we have hit the bottom and its on its way up, but by paying down debt you free yourself in a way a few extra dollars in stock gains simply won’t. Also, when you pay down a debt, that rate of return is guaranteed.
CDs & High Yield Savings Accounts
There’s nothing wrong with taking the 3-5% APY of a certificate of deposit (the best cd rates are hitting 5% APY) or a high yield savings account (the best high yield savings account rates are near 4% APY). I think there is a stigma against taking these “safe” gains because we have it in our heads that the stock market can yield returns of 10%. The reality is that the 10% metric is one that’s been overplayed and so ingrained that people are looking at the volatility in the market today and wondering how that figure could possible be correct. It’s not. The market may have yielded gains of 10% since the beginning of time but as all mutual funds state – “past returns are not indicative of future performance.”
One thing is certain though – a certificate of deposit or high yield savings account will get you that yield. The worst case is that you get your money back (bank failure). Unlike money market accounts, CDs and savings accounts are FDIC insured and you’re protected from loss.
Take the safe bet, it’s OK!
Invest In Yourself
Now is the perfect time to invest in yourself by taking some classes, buying some books, and otherwise augmenting your skills to make yourself a more attractive employee or prospective employee. Investing in yourself is one of the best things you can do with your money as knowledge is something that can stay with you for a very long time and there’s always something you can learn.
You don’t have to go as far as taking a class but if you’re in an industry where certifications, and the knowledge those certifications confirm, are important, go out and test for them. In certification heavy fields, many requisitions are filled by those certificates.
Invest In Money-Savers
It’s often said that replacing a ten year old refrigerator can yield significant cost savings (some figures claim $100-$200 of savings  ). If you have a ten year old refrigerator, consider taking your investment money and replacing it. Let’s say you buy a $2000 fridge and it saves you $100 a year in energy costs – that’s a 5% return on your investment. Since that 5% isn’t taxed, that’s the same as a 6.67% return in the stock market if you’re in the 25% marginal tax bracket. 6.67% return, a new fridge, and being nicer to the environment isn’t too shabby, is it?
There are plenty of other money-savers you can find both in and outside of your home.
Do you have any suggestions on where people can invest nowadays?