Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Investing in a Scary World

Terrified? Gold, bitcoin and cold, hard cash could be cold comfort

spinner image woman pulling money out from under the mattress of a bed
Getty Images

Let’s face it: The world in the 21st century is a scary place.

We face multiple threats at the same time. At home we have climate-driven natural disasters, inflation, collapsing banks, political polarization and a skyrocketing national debt that Congress is openly talking about defaulting upon in early summer. The global picture isn’t much better: The Ukraine war continues, Russian President Vladimir Putin is saber-rattling about the use of nuclear weapons, China is threatening to invade Taiwan, and inflation and supply chain issues continue to dog the world economy. What’s more, COVID, the virus that refuses to die, continues to pop up around the world like a medical game of whack-a-mole, disrupting everywhere it goes.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

Obviously, these events are affecting markets. What’s an investor to do when the going gets tough? Some are saying that what worked in the past may not work going forward. After all, traditional investing in stocks and bonds flopped simultaneously last year. Is it time for a change to something different? Let’s look at three of those different investments — gold, bitcoin and cold, hard cash in the safe.


Gold is sometimes referred to as a great diversifier. It’s regarded as a safe haven in times of geopolitical turmoil. With the U.S. government borrowing so much money, many think the value of gold will continue to increase relative to the dollar. While stocks hit an all-time high in the first few days of 2022 before plunging, the price of gold climbed 10.5 percent from the end of 2021 to April 14, 2023. In other words, it did better than just keep up with inflation.

But how has gold done in the long run? The good news is that some studies support the idea that gold has served as a long-term inflation hedge. The bad news is that the long run may be a lot longer than would be of any help, as gold probably won’t hedge against inflation even for periods of a couple of decades. I bought gold back in 1980, and after more than four decades it’s still lagging inflation. Even back then, it was a scary world, and the U.S. government was printing too much money, with some saying paper money would eventually be worthless due to hyperinflation. I fell prey to fear and greed.


Yet another reason not to invest in gold is that some are now referring to bitcoin as the new digital gold. In fact, when I wrote about bitcoin in 2017, I bought just a little, mainly to fact-check what sources told me about buying the cryptocurrency. Despite the terrible year it had last year, I still have over a 600 percent gain.

Famed manager of the ARK Innovation ETF (ticker: ARKK) Cathie Wood notes cryptocurrencies have become a haven for investors when the financial system comes under stress. She says that since Silicon Valley Bank was seized by regulators March 10, the price of bitcoin has surged 38 percent. Wood predicts the price of bitcoin will rise to $1.5 million, from $30,357 as of April 14.

Fortune favors the brave,” says actor Matt Damon, in one of the most inspirational commercials I’ve seen. Despite bitcoin being one of the best performers this year, those brave enough to have bought on Oct. 28, 2021, have lost over half of their investment. Though it’s quite possible that Damon might have the last laugh, I recommend using extreme caution and not putting more than, say, 2 percent of your investments in any crypto.

Hoarding cash in the safe

Some people tell me they are hoarding tens of thousands of dollars in cash in their home. I first advise them not to tell people that, for obvious security reasons. Then we get into why they’re taking this approach. I hear things like the impending collapse of our financial system, where banks will go under and the Federal Reserve won’t bail out depositors irrespective of FDIC insurance. And, in fact, if the U.S. does default on our debt, there won’t be money to pay people quickly, as was done with depositors at Silicon Valley Bank.

Shopping & Groceries

Coupons for Local Stores

Save on clothing, gifts, beauty and other everyday shopping needs

See more Shopping & Groceries offers >

Some see cash hidden at home as an insurance policy. To the one person telling me they stashed $30,000 in cash, I pointed out that this policy was costing $1,437 a year in lost interest, compared to a Treasury money market account with a compound yield of 4.79 percent.

My advice

I can’t promise none of these doomsday predictions will come true, but we have all heard similar predictions in the past that never did. If you want a sure way to protect against inflation, then consider Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), which are even better than I bonds.  

And if the U.S. government does go out of business, I don’t think we will be buying our food with either gold or bitcoin, and our nest egg won’t be one of our top concerns. Don’t buy an investment because you are brave. I say, when it comes to investing, “fortune favors the dull.” Investing should be simple, but it’s not so easy to ignore the news and our instincts.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?