America is rapidly hurtling toward the metaphorical fiscal cliff.
If you listen to the myriad of voices sounding off on the topic, you'll know that our country goes off this fiscal cliff on January 1 when $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts take effect. The pundits warn us about the impending economic slowdown and rising unemployment that will result if we drive off the cliff.
Americans are understandably worried. We need our elected leaders to put aside their partisan differences, and come together to work out a reasonable compromise. After witnessing the political climate in Washington over the last few years, it is hard for some of us to imagine our politicians acting like adults and doing the right thing.
When talking with clients lately, I hear a lot of anxiety. Many clients describe the fiscal cliff as their biggest problem. But by my definition, the fiscal cliff is not a problem.
I define a problem as something you can do something about. Because there is nothing that any of us can do personally to fix it, I define the fiscal cliff instead as a Difficult Life Reality™ - meaning something you don't like but over which you have no control. Instead of worrying about whether our politicians get their act together, focus on what you can do to protect your family in the event we drive off the cliff.
1. Get perspective.
The fiscal cliff is really more of a fiscal slope. If left unchanged, the tax increases and spending cuts will slow the economy, but not overnight. It will take some time for the tax hikes and spending cuts to inflict their full impact. Few expect us to drive off the cliff and stay there forever. Most expect the politicians to work out some sort of compromise in the ensuing weeks or months. Once the issue is resolved, the expectation is that most of the damage from the fiscal cliff would be reversed over time. The fiscal cliff might lead to some short-term, gut-wrenching market volatility, but if the markets recover before you need to spend the money, it won't impact your life.
2. Don't panic.
The more anxious we become; the less clearly we are able to think. If you are panicking, remind yourself that your wealth is about far more than your money. True wealth includes your time, talents, wisdom, health and network of friends and associates. Your portfolio may fluctuate wildly, but your other elements of wealth are far more stable.
3. Have faith in the face of uncertainty.
Nobody knows what the future will bring. When we pause for a moment, we realize that we are all constantly facing an uncertain future. Think about what you have faith in, or what you rely on, as you encounter difficult times. This might include relationships with family and friends, personal traits such as persistence, resilience and your work ethic. It might include your faith in God. It might even include faith in America's ability to confront and overcome its largest challenges.
4. Give the politicians a piece of your mind.
Let your elected leaders know that you expect them to act like adults, and to work together to craft a compromise that addresses both the fiscal cliff and our looming long-term economic challenges. If we all sent that message to our elected leaders, maybe they would put aside their partisan differences and start to work together. Maybe I'm being a bit overly optimistic, but I like to think our politicians went into public service with the intention of doing right in the eyes of their constituents. Maybe a slight nudge will get them back on track.
5. Remember what matters most.
As you approach the holiday season, remember what really matters in life. It is rarely about stuff. It is almost always about the quality of our most important relationships, our ability to be engaged in activities that ignite our passions, and making a difference in the lives of others. For many of us, the things that really matter are not affected by a short-term economic downturn.
6. Embrace the season.
The holiday spirit is a powerful force. Use this seasonal motivation to help someone who is struggling. When we reach out to help someone else, it helps remind us about how fortunate we are and it gives us the deep sense of satisfaction. There is nothing like a little context to help us survive a crisis or in this case a cliff.
David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He also serves as a motivational speaker and the CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors. His book is available at www.amazon.com or www.gvfinancial.com.