Four piggy banks stacked togther. (Image: Thinkstock)

In May, the American Institute of CPAs asked members of its Financial Literacy Commission to recommend steps to help Americans prepare their finances for a potential sharp economic downturn.

Some 600 CPAs responded to this latest iteration of the AICPA personal financial planning trends survey.

“CPA financial planners work with their clients to develop plans that fit their personal situation and manage them through good and bad economies,” Dave Stolz, chairman of the AICPA personal financial specialist credential committee, said in a statement.

And the current economy is definitely bad, as Americans endure the economic shock brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. This crisis follows on the dot-com bubble two decades ago and the subprime mortgage crisis that led to the 2008–2009 recession.

“As many Americans experience layoffs and economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s an unfortunate reminder of the importance of planning for a downturn even when the economy is doing well,” Stolz said.

Following are the top five actionable tips to help individuals strengthen their financial situations by CPAs who participated in the survey and comments by PFP members.

1. Establish and build an emergency fund (recommended by 84% of CPAs surveyed)

“You will be surprised at how fast small investments can add up when consistently made over the long term,” David Almonte said. “Allocating just a few dollars a day toward building up your emergency fund will add to significant amounts in just a few months. A great first step is to simply set a goal amount. Know what you are working towards and check in regularly.”

2. Pay down high-interest debt (recommended by 53%)

“Find places you can easily pare back now, like recurring charges for subscriptions and memberships you rarely use and watch for costs that may have grown when you weren’t keeping close tabs,” Neal Stern said. “Set reasonable spending targets that leave a margin to pay down debt. If you have balances on credit cards, paying them down should be high on your list — you don’t want to be paying for last year’s purchases, along with interest charges, if this year’s income is interrupted.”

3. Lifestyle and spending priority considerations (recommended by 49%)

Tami Bolder said one should always consider income when making a purchase and use credit sparingly. “While having credit can make high cost items easier to obtain, you may have costly interest charges and end up paying significantly more than the actual cost of the item. Don’t try to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ Before you make a purchase, do your homework and consider if there is a lower cost alternative that might be more suited to your needs.”

4. Recession-proof your investments (recommended by 47%)

Individuals of all ages to maintain a focus on their long-term goals when it comes to their investments and stay the course, according to Robert Westley. “A portfolio that reflects your current risk tolerance and time horizon is the best way to handle a market decline. To help manage exposure to market fluctuations, take time to revisit your asset allocation to make sure it is still in line with your financial goals.”

5. Create a ‘crisis’ budget while in a financial distress (recommended by 30%)

“Put together a crisis budget that only includes money you absolutely have to spend for the next 3 months — this is the amount you need to cover with any severance, unemployment, emergency fund and any other income you can bring in,” said Michael Landsberg. “When trimming back expenses, really focus on the ‘needs’ in your life prior to resorting to debt which may only provide a short-term solution to a much bigger and long-lasting problem.”