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Don't panic, don't sell -- save and network

  • Story Highlights
  • With stocks falling, Gerri Willis says buy
  • Losing your job is bigger risk than shrinking 401(k)
  • Build savings, cultivate professional friendships
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(CNN) -- With Wall Street operating on a bungee cord and economists hollering about recession, it would be easy to give into panic and sell all your stocks. But CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis says selling now would be dropping your money in the wrong direction.

CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis says now is the time to buy stocks.

"Don't try to catch a falling knife -- look it's an old Wall Street saying," says Willis, explaining how you will get hurt. "If you try to sell into stock rout with everyone selling, you're going to get the worst price possible."

The smarter thing is to buy low and sell high. She says you should be putting money into the market now, taking advantage of current low stock prices. She also advises dollar-cost investing -- putting in a little money regularly into the market to average out the cost. "This is the time to reduce the cost of your portfolio."

It is also a good time to check to see if you have broad diversification.

"That means you're not just invested in U.S. stocks -- domestic equities like the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500 -- you own international stocks. You're playing a little bit in every market and you own bonds as well as stocks."

She suggests using a calculator on asset allocation on

Bottom line: Don't panic over bounces in the market and don't try to play the market for big gains or to avoid temporary losses.

You face bigger threat than falling markets

But before you spend a lot of time worrying about your 401(k), you should spend some time thinking about your savings account.

"The biggest threat to consumers from a recession is losing your job," warns Willis. "That's what happens when the economy contracts -- employers start cutting head counts."

She says everyone should have enough money in savings to cover three to six months worth of bills. "One smart thing to do is to put that cash aside in a high-yield savings account so you'll be making money, so it's not just sitting there earning nothing at all."

And don't dismiss a method of savings your grandmother might have used -- certificates of deposit.

"This very strange market has created some interesting opportunities," says Willis. "Short-term CDs -- three- to six-month certificates -- are bearing the same rate as five-year CDs, which is highly unusual. It's because bankers are trying desperately to accumulate assets and bring money in the door. You should take advantage of their trouble by buying some of these CDs and locking it at the same rate as if you were buying five-year CDs."

You also want to make sure you're well-positioned at work, so your boss knows your name. Willis says you're working on the most important projects at work so you're high-profile.

And keep your professional friendships up to date.

"You want to renew friendships and acquaintances outside your workplace in competing institutions," she warns. "You really have to protect your flanks in case the worst happens."

Home, Sweet Equity, Home

If a possible job loss is on the horizon, right now is the time to get a no-cost home equity line of credit.

"That way, if you do lose your job, you'll have a way of paying that mortgage for a month, two months, three months -- until you get a job."

Those lines of credit work just like a credit card -- so use them carefully. Or just keep them put away in case of emergency.

Willis suggests getting one now because "if you try to take out one after you lose your job -- you will probably be turned down." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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