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In the words of Rishi Sunak: “Hard times are here”. Britain has officially entered the largest recession since records began, following the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
None of us have the power to single-handedly change the national economic picture, but financial coach Ellie Austin-Williams, founder of This Girl Talks Money, recommends preparing your individual finances as much as possible.
“You can’t protect your finances against all eventualities, but there are steps you can take to put yourself in the place to weather the recession,” she says.
For anyone feeling nervous about this week’s news, Austin-Williams recommends reviewing your expenses as a first step. “Go through your outgoings with a fine-tooth comb and look for areas where you can cut back and reduce costs,” she says. “Set yourself a budget and work out where you need to spend – and where you can save.”
It’s hard to give financial advice to fit every scenario, so we asked experts to give their top tips for recession-proofing in four categories: people with savings, people without savings, homeowners and renters.
Here’s what they recommend.
If you have savings
It’s time to check those interest rates, as many are at an all-time low, says Austin-Williams. “It’s worth shopping around for accounts with the best rates and, if you’re earning negligible interest, consider switching,” she says.
“If you’ve got a substantial amount of cash in easy-access savings, you can often find fixed-term accounts that may give you higher returns if you lock away your money – but be careful not to lock away more than you can afford.”
The top easy access accounts pay more than 1%, says Helen Saxon, banking editor at MoneySavingExpert.com. “If you’re not earning that much, ditch your existing savings account and switch to a better payer.”
It can be tempting to squirrel away as much as possible amid news of a recession, but Saxon says this isn’t the best idea if you have savings and debts. “If you’re paying interest on credit cards or loans, the rate on these is likely higher than the interest you get on savings,” she explains, “So, if you have savings and debts, look at using savings to pay down any expensive debts (not including student loans, as they are repaid differently to commercial debt) – though make sure you can always re-borrow back in an emergency.”
If you wouldn’t be able to re-borrow, keep an emergency fund of savings in case of a rainy day (or rainy few months).
If you don’t have savings
The pandemic has brought home how important it is to have a financial buffer in case of sudden income loss or redundancy, says Saxon, so now’s the time to start an emergency fund.
“Aim to start building up a cushion of between three to six months’ outgoings, which will help tide you over in the future,” she says. “The problem with this is that for many, that’ll be many £1,000s – and saving this much may be almost impossible if you’re struggling to make ends meet now.”
If money is tight, the best way to save is to drill down into your outgoings and work out where you can shave money off, even if it’s just a few pounds.
“Even if you’re covering all of your outgoings, make sure you’re switching and saving money on utilities, mobile phone bills, and insurance,” says Saxon. “You can even ‘downshift’ your groceries: drop a brand level on everything and if you don’t notice the difference, keep it.”
If you’re still short, Saxon advises you to look at all your non-essentials, such as subscriptions, TV packages and habitual spends, like coffees. Ask yourself: do I need it, can I afford it, and if so, is it cheaper elsewhere? Check for vouchers, sales and cash-back before buying anything, too.
Another option is to look at bank accounts that “round up” debit card spending to the nearest pound and put the saved pennies into savings for you. “It’s a good way to start saving without really noticing,” says Saxon.
If you have a mortgage
One of the first economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis was that base rates for mortgages were cut to 0.1%. Anyone on a tracker saw their rate decrease, explains Saxon. If you have a fixed mortgage, you won’t have seen your rate decrease, but you may find lower mortgage rates if you’re remortgaging soon.
“However, another impact of Covid-19 was that many lenders cut the number of mortgages they offered, particularly those at high loan-to-value ratios, where you have a small deposit, or a small amount of equity in your home,” she says. “If this is the case for you, you may find it harder to remortgage.”
Have an existing mortgage? The best thing to do right now is keep paying the amount every month and “keep your finances solidly in order,” says Saxon.
But, she says, if you have a high loan-to-value ratio and are coming to remortgage, think about using savings to get into a lower loan-to-value bracket, where the mortgage rate will be cheaper and you’ll have more choice of lenders.
It might be wise to contact a mortgage broker if you’re remortgaging soon. “As the mortgage market’s moving so quickly, they have the latest vital information about which lenders are accepting which customers, and will have access to information that’ll help you get the best mortgage,” says Saxon. “A good mortgage broker’s worth their weight in gold in this pandemic.”
If you’re renting
A combination of economic downturn, mortgage rates and unemployment figures tend to impact the rental market during recession, says Adam McKay from The Tenants Voice, a website offering expert advice and support for renters. Unfortunately for tenants, this usually means rent increasing, so bear this in mind when budgeting if you’re nearing the end of an existing contract.
“Unemployment figures have soared due to Covid-19,” says McKay. “This impacts the affordability of mortgages, increases repossessions and releases a new population into the tenancy market, which, in turn, will increase demand for rented properties. Many landlords will increase their rents – in the absence of any meaningful controls.”
McKay says he’s heard many landlords are looking to sell their properties at the moment, so it’s important tenants know where they stand. If you’re in the middle of a lease, there’s no need to move as a new owner becomes a new landlord on the same terms as before, he says.
“As with anyone, budgeting is vital. However, we see on a daily basis people entering into tenancy agreements they cannot afford through the sheer desperation of finding somewhere to live,” McKay adds. “A home is vital to a person’s security, health and wellbeing. Unfortunately the rental market is, without further regulation, likely to descend into a morass of disrepair and insecurity.”