How to manage through rising rates, inflation and market volatility

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Inflation, rising interest rates and market volatility have many Americans on edge.

Consumer prices were up 8.5% in March from a year ago, costing U.S. households an extra $327 per month, according to a Moody’s estimate.

To combat rising inflation, the Federal Reserve has begun increasing interest rates. The central bank already raised rates by 0.25% in March and has indicated it will likely implement a 0.5% hike in May. In the meantime, 30-year fixed mortgage rates have already soared to more than 5%. That’s up from 3.37% on Jan. 5, according to Mortgage News Daily.

It’s all putting pressure on the housing market, where prices are still high and inventory is low, and the stock market, which was clobbered last month and remains volatile.

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“It will be a much more tricky, difficult year when it comes to the economy and people’s finances,” said Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist.

With that in mind, here’s how to mange through the tough economic situation many Americans are now facing.

Market volatility

Swings in the stock market may make you want to run for the hills.

However, you should be focused on the long term. Any changes you make to that plan during times of volatility can set you back for years, said financial advisor Mitch Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy in Melville, New York.

“The best thing you could do is to control your own internals: how you react to stress, lessons you learn along your investing journey, and becoming battle-hardened so you could become a long-term investor,” he said.

“Remember, time in the market is more important than timing the market.”

Any money you will need in the short term should be kept out of stocks, so you aren’t forced to sell at a loss when you want to access it, Goldberg said.

Also, if you are nearing retirement, you may also want to be a bit more cautious, Zandi said.

That’s because he has low expectations for the market over the next couple of years.

“Market asset prices have gone skyward because of the very, very low-inflation and low-rate environment we were in,” he said.

“We can’t expect to see the kind of returns we did in the previous world we were in.”

Inflation

Customers pushing shopping carts shop at a supermarket on April 12, 2022 in San Mateo County, California.

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Zandi has been predicting that inflation may moderate after a peak around May. However, inflation expectations are migrating higher.

“There are lots of different ways to measure expectations,” Zandi said. “They are all saying people are beginning to believe that this high inflation is here to stay for a long period.

“If that is the case, it will increasingly come true,” he added.

To manage higher prices, first review your budget.

“You can make changes or shift around your budget if you have the ability,” said Misty Lynch, a certified financial planner with Walpole, Massachusetts-based Sound View Financial Advisors.

“If you need to, cut back or change habits a little bit to get a $175 grocery shopping down to $150, like buying less meat.”

Many Americans have already cut back on dining out, a recent CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey found. If inflation persists, they plan to scale back on eating out, driving and vacations, according to the survey conducted by Momentive.

If there are big-ticket items coming up, such as a trip or wedding, you can save money by planning ahead.

“The last-minute things are going to be super-expensive, and there is just a shortage of a lot of different things,” Lynch said.

Rising interest rates

Federal Reserve interest rate hikes impact the interest you pay on things such as credit cards and a home equity line of credit.

That means already high credit-card rates will climb higher. Currently, the average rate is more than 16%, according to CreditCards.com.

Therefore, focus on using any additional money you can spare to pay down your debt. Lynch suggests starting with the cards with the highest interest rates. Others like to pay off those with the highest balances first.

If you decide to transfer your balance to a zero-interest card, make sure you don’t continue to accumulate debt, or you’ll be right back to where you started since the zero rate is locked in only for a certain time period.