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This Is Uncomfortable

Talk of recession has people putting off certain life milestones

Katherine Wiles and Bennett Purser Sep 4, 2019
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A possible recession is causing people to put off certain milestones, including having a baby.
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk about a possible recession. Is it inevitable? Could talking about it make it happen? Is the trade war going to push us into one?

Some people aren’t too concerned about a recession, while others would be impacted. A recession can change the way people plan their lives. We talked to three Marketplace listeners who say a possible recession is affecting how they think about their futures.

Mark Knudsen — Hunterdon, New Jersey

During the Great Recession, Mark Knudsen watched his retirement savings evaporate.
During the Great Recession, Mark Knudsen watched his retirement savings evaporate. (Courtesy of Mark Knudsen)

Mark Knudsen remembers the Great Recession well. He was 47 in 2008, and wasn’t keeping a close eye on his 401(k) or his IRA. He watched his retirement savings evaporate, pushing back a potential retirement. Knudsen didn’t recover for three to four years. The last recession — and a possible future one — has changed the way Knudsen thinks about retirement.

“Now I don’t really have the luxury of time,” Knudsen told Marketplace. He said sitting tight and seeing how bad a next recession might be “isn’t going to cut it.” He found a new financial manager who Knudsen says focuses more on balancing out “the highs and the lows.”

“That really gets to be quite nerve-wracking, especially as you try to approach retirement,” Knudsen said. “I kind of view this as just basically buckling my seat belt.”

Heather Phillips — Alameda, California

Heather Phillips is 30 years old and was in college at the time of the 2008 recession. She remembers it well, and the experience of watching her father lose his job has stayed with her.

Heather Phillips is planning to put off having a child until she sees more economic certainty. (Courtesy of Heather Phillips)

Phillips and her husband are financially secure. They own their house, they have two incomes, and they are thinking about growing their family. Phillips asked her husband when he wanted to start trying for a child.

“He responded, ‘End of next year,’ which surprised me with how specific it was,” Phillips said. “But after we talked about it, we agreed.”

Even though they’re financially stable now, Phillips said she realized that can all “change in an instant.” She and her husband decided to continue growing their savings and to wait until they have more certainty before having a baby.

Dan Huckel — Ridley Park, Pennsylvania

Dan Huckel, his wife and their 11-month-old daughter live in his father-in-law’s house, “which is great for saving money on bills,” Huckel said. But he and his wife are ready to own their own home.

Dan Huckel with his daughter. (Courtesy of Dan Huckel)

“Actually, we’ve been mentally ready for years,” Huckel told Marketplace. “But now we’re finally financially ready.”

They were excited to start looking for a home but have become much less aggressive in the past six months. They can see and feel the economic uncertainty, he said, and are concerned about how a volatile market could impact them as new homeowners. Huckel remembers the last recession, and he said that’s making him a little wary.

“We’re totally slowing down, sitting on our savings, collecting interest, and waiting for the right opportunity for us before we pull the trigger on the largest purchase of our lives,” Huckel said.

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