[MUSIC PLAYING] EMILY BIGHAM: Hi and welcome to the podcast Making Cents brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union. I'm your host, Emily Bigham, and each week I'll be taking your questions to the experts to help you make sense of your money, pun intended.
ROBERT FRICK: Well I gave my usual commentary on GDP this morning and it was good, I thought. I worked on it sober and all. Then I just kind of unleashed. I tweeted on Twitter-- I unleashed a tweet and it's kind of taken off. And it's basically-- before everybody pats themselves on the back for having a great third quarter, it's because we spent trillions of dollars. And the Fed opened the spigots to all this money and that's how we made it back in the third quarter. So, you know--
EMILY BIGHAM: Yeah and--
ROBERT FRICK: We're still not walking on our own yet.
EMILY BIGHAM: Right, it's so interesting too to read those reports and to think about it from a regular consumer reading it versus someone who's really plugged in and understands the why behind it. And by the way, for those of you who have tuned in to the Making Cents podcast, we are on with Robert Frick. He is our corporate economist here at Navy Federal. Bob, I'm not sure if you knew we were recording but I love the real time Twitter feed.
So, what was I reading the other day where it was so interesting how everyone who was reading it-- it was completely misconstrued. I think it had to do with spending and it might have been a monthly report, maybe Consumer Spend or Retail Spend.
ROBERT FRICK: Probably Retail Spending.
EMILY BIGHAM: Yeah and no one ever talked about the stimulus checks and the way that money just-- Also I think it was Consumer Credit and they were trying to say that that was an indicator that the economy is bouncing back. And I'm thinking, but it's all credit. No one's paid any money back.
ROBERT FRICK: Well, yeah, we got these trillions of dollars and a lot of people banked it. And a lot of people paid down their credit lines which is as good as cash. So they have more credit that they can use and then more money in the bank. And we're still coasting on that when it comes to retail spending at least. And once you factor that in things don't look nearly as rosy as the numbers would indicate.
EMILY BIGHAM: Right. And on that note, given the way that the economy has shifted this year a little unexpectedly, what can you tell us about-- can you give us an overview, I guess, about what you've seen happen due to the pandemic and what you're thinking is going to happen early next year?
ROBERT FRICK: Sure. Well, obviously the economy tanked in the second quarter when everything shut down. Some of it was the government said shut down. A lot of it, most of it, was people said, I don't want to go out with COVID raging. We bounced back in the third quarter, but as I said mainly because the government shot trillions of dollars to individuals and small businesses. And the Fed took interest rates down to zero so the third quarter was mostly a bounce back but it wouldn't have bounced back if the government hadn't weighed in so heavily. So we are still to some degree on life support. And even though spending's pretty good and consumer confidence is low but holding steady, we are still coasting on government programs. And the idea is we probably need more stimulus to get us to that promised land next year, second or third quarter, when we start getting vaccines and treatments and people can really breathe a sigh of relief. More jobs come back, more spending and we can really start walking on our own two feet instead of having the government assistance kind of prop us up.
EMILY BIGHAM: Bob, when would you say it's too late for the next stimulus? When would you say is the? Deadline
ROBERT FRICK: Well it looks like it won't happen until January at this point because the federal government has gone home until after the election and won't be back probably until January. So I don't think January is too late but if it goes much beyond January-- we're already seeing permanent damage done to the economy. Millions of people are going into long term unemployment and that's bad. The economy depends on people working. More people working, more paychecks, more spending-- that's just how it works. That's the bottom line. And the more people go into permanent unemployment, the longer it is for those people to get back to work. And we've proven that over and over again in the last 10 years. We really proved it in spades. It took a long, long time for a lot of people to come back after the Great Recession.
So, I think we're OK, January maybe February, but if somehow we don't get stimulus then we're going to have to crawl out of another pit
EMILY BIGHAM: Bob, what if we get a vaccine? What if we get a vaccine? Would we need a stimulus?
ROBERT FRICK: I'm counting on a vaccine. I'm saying that assuming we get a vaccine and it's well distributed in the second or third quarter. But we've been building this bridge, this $3 trillion bridge to get us to-- since apparently we can't control COVID on our own, we're going to need to get vaccines and other medications. But we've built 80% of a bridge. Now, 80% of a bridge only gets you so far and that means we're going to be falling off the edge for that last 20%, which is really again second and third quarter of next year. So I'm not the only one saying this. Most people are saying this. We need more stimulus I don't think it has to be a lot. But we certainly have to help lower income Americans, especially in small businesses, just to get them to a point where they don't declare personal bankruptcy, they don't fall into long term unemployment, they don't get so far behind on their bills they can't dig themselves out.
EMILY BIGHAM: Right. I guess that would be preventing the long term damage. And also I think just being able to give people some confidence and make them feel a little bit better. We're heading towards the winter. We live on the East Coast. You see how people's moods tend to drop when their not in the sunshine. And I think just knowing that there's something on the horizon is a positive sign. I haven't really been reading a lot about a potential stimulus in January and February and hearing that-- I'm optimistic. And I think that that's something that people should be talking about. Just because we're not going to get one right now or in November doesn't mean that we're not going to get one. Like you said, we're still on life support due to government funding. And if we can just get to January and February, things can turn around. So do you have any short term tips for people who are trying to stretch their finances as much as possible?
ROBERT FRICK: Sure. I always do. As a former personal finance journalist spending years doing that, I always have advice to give. But I think the advice right now comes with an interesting preface and that's that people are doing great right now. There's nothing that focuses people's attention like crisis. So you see people saving a lot, not spending as much, paying down their credit lines. People behave very rationally when money is tight. On the other hand, when things are booming, like you said, with the credit bubbles, and the housing bubble, and the internet bubble people then spent like crazy. People aren't doing that now. So that's great. But people still react in bad ways during times of crisis because anxiety makes us behave emotionally.
So my number one piece of advice is make a list. Make a list of all the things you're paying now that you really don't need and stop paying them. My wife and I went through and just cut a number of things off of our-- things that are deducted out of our checking account. We redid our cable and got a service which is saving us hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year. We cancelled two trips. Not that we were going to take those trips anyway-- one of them was to England. We typically rent a house on one of the Finger Lakes every year for our family get together-- that's gone. So when you make a list, a lot of good things happen. One, you look at things that you might not have looked at anyway. Two, you tend to prioritize things which we don't do if we're just trying to fix things in our head. And three, and most importantly, once you make a list you can start checking things off the list. That gives us a sense of accomplishment, that makes us feel better about ourselves, and It shows we're making progress. So don't rely on all the things churning in your brain right now to make financial decisions. Write it down.
EMILY BIGHAM: Those are some great tips, especially as we approach the holidays too. I think it's really important for people to think about what's important to them. There is a lot of gift giving and there's a lot of shopping but there's also a lot of sales. If you make your list and prioritize and there are things you absolutely need, you can probably find them at a cheaper price just given the shopping season.
I want to go back to what you said about the housing market, though, because earlier we were talking about the 2008 financial crisis. That was more of a housing market catastrophe. I think it's really difficult to try to compare what's happening now with previous recessions because you're seeing-- people are looking to buy homes now. They're moving out of cities. They're buying homes. Rates are really low. So for certain people who are in a good financial situation, it's probably a good time for them to start making those big purchases that they've been saving up for. Could you talk a little bit about how this potential recession is different from previous recessions?
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah and that's really interesting. When it comes to home building, home buying, that is one of the few bright spots in the recovery right now. People talk about a V-shape recovery in which we went way down and we spring back up. Housing is probably the only clear spot in the recovery in which things are going so well. Part of that is you have a lot of millennials that are becoming of home buying age. Part of it is interest rates are at historically low levels. Part of it is because there's been a tremendous backlog of home buying and now we're finally being able to get out of our houses. The whole real estate community has made it easier to buy a house. My family just sold two properties and they go to great lengths and do interesting things to allow kind of contactless buying. And it went very smoothly and the two townhouses we sold went very quickly. So housing is a big bright spot, if you're selling. If you're buying, it's very tough because there is so much competition.
One of the things that I was holding back on is committing to this idea that there's a lot more home buying now because people are moving out of urban areas and moving to homes where they can establish home offices, rooms where their kids can essentially go to school remotely. Just in the last couple weeks there's been enough data to come out that I finally buy into that idea. It's been anecdotal but now I think we have the numbers to go with it.
EMILY BIGHAM: So you do buy into it?
ROBERT FRICK: I do buy into it, yes. So COVID-- I heard this great quote, COVID is reconfiguring us, not just how we spend money, but how we look at our lives and our lifestyles. And this is one of the big ways that we're doing it is we figured this is going to be a long term situation. I'm not pessimistic about that. I think certainly a year from now there's going to be a lot more travel, a lot more restaurants, a lot more jobs. I think we're going to bounce back but I think we're finding that we can work from home efficiently. I think that COVID will be with us to some extent for a long time. And people say, OK, I'm not going to fight it. I'm not going to hold my breath. I'm going to change my life to basically make allowances for a long term situation.
EMILY BIGHAM: Right It's been long enough now that I think people are beginning to understand that this could be a longer term and you can't fight it. I mean you kind of just have to figure out what works for you and your family. I want to go back to travel for a minute because you said that you expect when this is over that travel will bounce back. Due to the fact that so much airline travel was for business and now it's very unclear whether companies are going to be sending people-- Now that we can work from home efficiently, what is your outlook there for travel, as far as business impact on travel?
ROBERT FRICK: Right. Well, a good friend of mine works for a travel trade publication and I follow what he says. Business travel is never going to come back, at least not in the foreseeable years, to what it was before. And that's disappointing for me because I go to one conference a year and it looks like that's going to be-- it was canceled this year and be canceled next year. I really enjoy that conference but there's been a lot of superfluous business travel, which I think everybody is recognizing. And it's just cheaper not to do it. And so airlines are recognizing that. Now leisure travel is something else again. And I think as COVID levels come down, come way down, we're going to see leisure travel pick way up. That might not be until 2022. Who knows. But people need to travel. People want to see other places. People want to visit their friends and relatives. That's going to come back 100%. I'm positive.
EMILY BIGHAM: Personally, I'm still traveling for personal reasons. I live on the East Coast, as you know, but I'm from the West Coast and I've gone back a few times. I think it really just depends on comfort level because the airlines, I think, have been doing a good job. But, also on travel, you mentioned superfluous traveling for business and how that's probably not going to come back. I tend to think-- me personally, having part of my team up here at headquarters in Virginia and then part of the team down in Pensacola, it's really important to me to go down to Pensacola and see the people on my team and connect in that way. I think there is something about being with people in person. And with you at your conferences, I'm sure part of that is networking with people who are in your circle. We need the human connection. I don't want to be constantly through a computer, through the phone. I think it's really important for business.
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah, I agree with you. I don't consider that superfluous. As a matter of fact, just in a meeting we had yesterday one of our executives said, you know how do you think things are going? And I said, well you know we're very productive right now. And in fact more productive in some of the things we do. However, I really miss that personal contact. I was in our headquarters building earlier this week to drop off some things and I really miss wandering around talking to people, talking to you in now credit cards, talking to people in savings, talking to my risk management colleagues. I get a lot of good ideas. And in some of the projects I work on, the projects which take innovation, which takes new thinking, you need to be face to face to do those. I don't think you can do those nearly as well via Zoom. So I'm agreeing with you. I think we do need that to an extent. But I think a lot of times people were traveling for really no good reason. In a previous job, I was traveled to the West Coast a lot into Southern California and sometimes I'd just go there overnight, or for two nights, just to meet with a couple of people. There was no reason I had to do that and take a red eye. Now, I love Santa Monica and I love meeting with the people I met with, but I could have just as easily done that via Zoom and saved the company I worked for then thousands of dollars.
EMILY BIGHAM: It goes back to trusting your employees and making sure that when they do travel it's for a reason. Bobby and I used to work together very closely when I was in PR and now that I'm in credit cards we'll kind of talk about what's going on. And of course I get my personal finance tips from you. I miss that. But it's really difficult to do research for a project when you have to set up a call with everyone. I think we're probably learning what roles are good at home, what teams can function well working from home and then who needs to be in the office face to face. So I think that's another positive thing that people can do while we're in this situation. Start thinking about your business and how the working from home situation works or doesn't work, and where you can save money or where you're spending more money because of the situation and kind of restrategize.
ROBERT FRICK: Exactly. And come up with a new strategy. I mean, as you know, I work on various behavioral finance projects and it was much easier to do those when I could sit in a room with people and explain to them these new concepts. It's harder to do that if I do it in a paper or even if I do it in a Zoom meeting because, as you know, I get excited about it. I try and motivate people. I can answer a lot of questions. I can read their body language. You can't do that. So now we have to find kind of new ways to push the envelope. I think, for Navy Federal-- I'm kind of astounded that every month people are finding new ways of doing that and we are coming up with new products and finding new ways to help our members and that sort of thing. So it can be done but I think it takes more effort.
EMILY BIGHAM: Well I think part of that, too, is because at Navy Federal our strategy really hasn't changed. It's always serving members. And I know, for example, in credit cards some of the changes we made to our products a couple of years ago are doing really well right now because we have always been thinking about-- no matter what happens, how are we just going to best serve our members' needs? I want to get a little bit into that. So the military and veterans-- how has this impacted the military? And have you seen anything change with employment with veterans?
ROBERT FRICK: Well the good news for veterans employment, which just in the last few months I've really started looking at under a microscope, is that veterans employment is always low. Veterans unemployment is always at a very low level. When the pandemic hit, veterans did lose jobs but not nearly at the rate of the general population. And veterans gain their jobs back more quickly. That's because veterans tend to be better trained, better educated. If you're a veteran, you've shown that you really know how to get a job done. So veterans are great employees. I think everyone knows that. So veterans are doing well.
EMILY BIGHAM: Good with crisis, too.
ROBERT FRICK: Exactly. Right. They know how to handle a crisis. So what's been interesting, especially for me, is people have been asking me what's a good strategy for veterans? Should they extend, if they're offered, should they extend their hedge? And given a choice between coming out of the military into this environment and coming out six months or a year from now, I think, unless a veteran has a great job or a soon to be veteran has a great job lined up, I don't see any problem with staying in the service, getting more skills, kind of riding out these rocky times. So I know a lot of people have been preparing-- a lot of our military members have been preparing for their careers, sometimes for years. They've gotten degrees in the military, they've gotten special training and lined up jobs. And if they're ready to get out, great. But if they're not ready and they expect that they're going to come out into this great environment, they're going to be sadly disappointed and it's better to wait. So that's what I've been advising some people who are still in.
EMILY BIGHAM: So the military community is definitely faring better than the civilian population?
ROBERT FRICK: Oh yeah. And military spending-- if you're still within the military, military spending is still strong. When you leave the military, employment for veterans is still good but, all things being equal, this is not a great time to be launching yourself into this kind of chaotic economy.
EMILY BIGHAM: Yes. So what should you not do? We talk a lot about tips and tricks but what should people not be doing?
ROBERT FRICK: Well, one of the things that-- when we did our best careers after service project last year, which was terrific, and one of the things that I discovered in my research, and talking to people who employ a lot of veterans and to people who counsel veterans, is veterans need to not make going back to their hometown their first choice. Maybe there's a job for them in their hometown but everyone who I spoke to said, broaden your horizons. Look at other cities, other places, other regions of the country. Now I've worked at several places throughout my career and I know it's hard to start over. But especially these days where employment opportunities aren't that great, you've got to really look at cities, regions, companies which may be in another state, maybe on the other side of the country, where you can get a great job, restart a career, start a new career. Do not hold yourself to your hometown or even to your home state.
The other thing that we're seeing, which is true every time we have a recession, is that people with lower educational attainment-- high school degrees and less especially-- their unemployment rate is so much higher than people with college degrees or people with good training in the trades or vocational training. So use that GI Bill. Now is a good time if you want to get out of the service-- is put yourself in a program where you know there's going to be a demand, whether it's college degrees-- which a surprising number of veterans are getting college degrees now, although it's down a little bit from previous years. But if you can get into college or a trade program, use that GI Bill. That's the thing, especially in a dicey economy like this one where it may take several years for us to get back to a vigorous economy again. Get that education. Now's a great time to do it.
EMILY BIGHAM: That's very interesting about looking at job markets and taking a closer look at that because things are shifting. And, like you said, you thought it was just anecdotes you were hearing about people moving out of cities, but there are shifts. And it does seem to be state by state depending on where this pandemic is hitting hardest and what restrictions there are. So I think that's a really great tip. When I was getting out of college and trying to think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to move to, I heard people say, be picky don't take the first job that you get. I don't know if people can be very choosy these days. I guess it just depends on, again, you're list and what you're prioritizing. But these are all really great tips, Bob.
ROBERT FRICK: That's a really good point, though, because when I got out of college-- back in the dark ages-- the economy was in bad shape and we were told, just take whatever job you can get. And I was a journalist. I had just gotten out of journalism school and there weren't many great opportunities. And I sucked it up. I took a job and I put in my two years and the economy had gotten better and then I could move up from there. It wasn't a great start but it was the only start I could get. So there's something to be said for just getting started. That's why I like the idea of waiting and getting more education because you'll be able to launch yourself into a better job with more money at a higher level than perhaps, probably, if you enter the job market right now.
EMILY BIGHAM: But Bob when you and I were talking earlier-- I want to make this important distinction because when we're talking about education and training, you're not necessarily talking about the four-year typical American college.
ROBERT FRICK: Exactly.
EMILY BIGHAM: So can you get into the differences there?
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah. Yes, sure. I think especially with the whole idea of four-year college in some respects coming into question right now because of COVID, but also because of the high cost, there's a lot more thought being given to getting a two-year degree, getting an associate's degree or getting training in a technical field or even a non-technical field such as IT or something like that.
A good friend of mine was a guidance counselor for a number of years at a high school here in Vienna. And he's retired now but he is keeping me apprised of what he would be advising students to do today. And in a lot of cases it's don't go and get that four-year degree or go to a community college for a couple years and then go on and get your four-year degree. So it's not an either-or proposition. There are a lot of gradations between a four-year degree and no education. No education is a non-starter. You're never going to do well with no education. But there are a lot of intermediate steps that people should really think about. Again, a two-year degree-- great, technical training-- great. Sometimes your two-year degree will lead to a four-year degree. I know there are some great nursing programs in which you start as kind of a base nurse, like a nursing assistant, and then you work yourself up and finally get your master's degree in nursing. All along the way you get paid. So there's a lot of paths to success which are not a four-year degree.
EMILY BIGHAM: Yeah. That's true. And I think it's probably time to break that mold and start thinking about some other things and become a more well-rounded economy so that these types of things don't completely take us down the wrong path.
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah. When I got out, and probably when you got out, that was your choice. And now I got my three daughters through college and one of them through a master's degree, and it was a struggle. It was a financial struggle. And now I would probably think that it would have been better to start out in community college or focus on, only in our case, Virginia schools. They all went out of state which was a killer to the budget. Now I'd probably say, you know honey-- again three girls-- you know, yeah, you could go to the University of South Carolina, but University of Virginia is pretty nice too.
EMILY BIGHAM: I think we all got caught up in-- Yeah, you always want to do the best for your kids so no regrets there. But I have three other siblings and we all went to schools in California. Three of us went to UC schools, University of California, so it's a little bit better-- not great as far as money-- but better. And the best piece of advice that I ever got was from my uncle who's a very successful business man and he just said, whatever job you're doing do the best that you can. And I think that that's really served me because the thinking back since I've been in the workforce have gone from communications and PR over to lending and then-- it's been all over the place. But I really like it and I enjoy it. And I feel like the experience that you get is just as good, if not better, than some of the education or classes that you can be taking. So really just depends on whether you need specific training, like if you're a doctor or a surgeon, That's not going to be my next move. There are things where experience is definitely more important than going to school. So, like you said, you got to stay calm, make a list, prioritize, and then start doing some research. In the meantime, just do the best that you can with what you've been given and I feel like that's all that we can really do
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah and I think that's great advice. Do the best wherever you are. Another good friend of mine says, whenever you take a job, from the first day on that job, be thinking about what your next move-- it may be internally, it maybe externally. And I've been blessed to land at some really great places and I've been able to stay a long time. But I've also been a newspaper journalist, I've moved to magazines, I've worked for a big financial company, I worked in publishing for a while and now, through tremendous luck, I'm in Navy Federal and I'm an economist. And it's always been that great advice which is, do the best you can but always be looking to what really interests you and follow your interests, pursue your interests, and that will pay off for you. Don't think that once you choose a career, that's the end of it.
EMILY BIGHAM: Right. Well, and getting that experience-- say you just take a job that you're not exactly super interested in, you might get exposed to something that sparks your interest and then you kind of follow that path. So I think that even though we've been talking about the economy and the pandemic, which isn't necessarily the happiest topic, I think there are a lot of really positive things and tips that you talked about here. You think that if we have a stimulus next year, early next year, that's going to be great. We're still kind of riding the high of the previous stimulus so people just need to keep their spirits high and, like you said, make a list, prioritize. And the housing market is the one area also that seems to be going well so it's not like everything has taint.
ROBERT FRICK: Right
EMILY BIGHAM: And I'm interested to see what happens with travel. It's going to be good. And people can take this time to think about their current businesses and make some cuts in some places and think about growth in other areas. And I think it's a really interesting time. And Bob I hope that we can chat again, maybe in a few weeks or months, or maybe I'll actually see you in person. Miss you.
ROBERT FRICK: Wouldn't that be nice?
EMILY BIGHAM: Wouldn't that be great?
ROBERT FRICK: Yeah. Well, I think certainly in three or four months we'll be doing that. And I think in four months from now I think the economy will have taken a turn for the better. The degree, the extent to which it's better, is an open question. But people have a hard time imagining a year from now how things are going to be because we've been hit with one blow after another. A year from now things are going to be much better than they are today. And people need to start thinking about that and envisioning a better future because if you only focus on the negatives today you're going to be missing a lot of opportunities
EMILY BIGHAM: Right. Look for the bright lights. So Bob, four months from now having you back on the podcast and we're going to see if your prediction is correct. I'm penciling you in now. No, but where can listeners find your ongoing insights?
ROBERT FRICK: Well I tweet a lot these days, RobertFrickNFCU and I really like people to follow me, especially members. I talk about the economy, yeah, but I will also talk about my dog and recipes. I'm also kind of snarky at times because I think you need to poke fun at some of the things that make no sense, especially in the media and the economy. I did that today and I got a lot of good reactions from it. I think you need to really keep things in perspective and that's what I try to do. So please follow me there. I will do write occasionally for our website, but Twitter is really my main outlet. And I have a lot of members that follow me. We have great conversations. So if you follow me and you're a member, I will promise to follow you back and I will respond to every comment you make.
EMILY BIGHAM: Bob, what if this podcast blows up and millions of people start following you? What are we going to do?
ROBERT FRICK: I would love it. I can hire people. I could hire people to manage my Twitter feed.
EMILY BIGHAM: Well you said you like to poke fun at people that don't make sense. And on this podcast all we do is make sense because it's Making Cents.
ROBERT FRICK: I won't make fun of you, Emily.
EMILY BIGHAM: Time for me to go home. Bob, it was so good to talk to you. I miss these conversations. Maybe I'll start following you on Twitter.
ROBERT FRICK: Oh boy, what a treat that would be. But yeah, certainly a year from now we'll all be getting together and I think we'll be wiser for it. I really do.
EMILY BIGHAM: Yes, absolutely. Well thank you for ending on a positive note. And to all of you Navy Federal members or listeners out there please feel free to send us any questions that you might have for Bob or anything that you would like to talk about on the podcast. And follow us wherever you get your podcasts Bob, have a great rest of your day.
ROBERT FRICK: You too, Emily. Thank you so much.
EMILY BIGHAM: Bye.
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