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AARP Bulletin

Lessons From the Recession

Millions lost their homes, savings and jobs in 2008 when the economy went into free fall. What have we learned?

unemployed, lessons recessions

The Great Recession wiped out more than 8 million jobs. — Ed Kashi/VII

5. Your job is your greatest asset

It's much harder to survive a major downturn without a paycheck. Even a part-time job at minimum wage can be a lifesaver if it helps you cover your basic living expenses without having to withdraw from a shrinking nest egg in a bear market.

Don't retire until you're confident you could pay your essential expenses for at least two years without having to tap your stock investments, says Steve Vernon, research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity. The surest way to achieve that goal is to boost your Social Security benefit by delaying your application.

Social Security is guaranteed monthly income that doesn't fall when stocks do — and it lasts for your lifetime and your spouse's lifetime. Other sources of income that can help you survive a bear market without a paycheck include money market funds, certificates of deposit, short-term high-quality bonds and fixed-income annuities.

college lessons recession

Graduates faced the worst job market in decades. — Joachim Ladefoged/VII

6. You aren't necessarily done with your kids after college

Many of us already knew that, of course — but the Great Recession really drove it home. Faced with the worst job market in decades, more than one-third of recent college graduates decided to return to school; and almost one-quarter of them took an unpaid job or moved back home with their parents.

We're hardwired to help our children. But it's vital to figure out how much financial help you can give without compromising your own security — and to communicate that reality to your kids, says financial planner Blayney. "Remember, they have plenty of human capital and time on their side, and you have to take care of yourself."

If your kids' college years still loom on your horizon, create a college budget that doesn't increase your debt or eat into your retirement savings. (One option: two years at a community college, then transfer.) If your college graduate is a boomerang baby, expect him or her to contribute to your household expenses. You won't be alone: Of those ages 25 to 34 who live with their parents or moved back home in bad times, 48 percent say they've paid rent.

Lynn Brenner is a Newsday personal finance columnist and a Reuters contributor.

Speak Out!

The Great Recession touched a lot of people across the country. Did you feel the effects? Do you know someone who was hit particularly hard? Share your stories in our Credit, Loans and Debt Message Board.

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