Lessons in Pandemic Budgeting
The last two months have been an unprecedented time in recent history. Though the economy is still in shambles, and COVID cases continue to mount, there are many lessons we can already glean from this experience that we can start to put into practice now.
When it comes to personal finances, this experience has been devastating to many. And it highlights how important certain protocols around money really are. These protocols aren’t new however, but are embedded in principles of best practice for financial health.
Below I will highlight some of the most important safeguards to keep in mind to be better prepared in the future. I will also share some tips on what you can do to help manage your finances in the now, while we are still in the middle of this pandemic.
Proper Preparation (for a Pandemic or any catastrophic event, really):
Emergency Fund, Emergency Fund, Emergency Fund.
Yup. You’ve heard me say it before, and you’ll hear me say it again. YOU NEED to have an emergency fund. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like - money you set aside in the case of emergencies.
The thing about pandemics or any kind of emergency is that you never really know when they are going to hit. When your life gets turned upside down, the last thing you want to worry about is, if you’re going to be ok financially. So, it’s important to be proactive about creating this safeguard.
Here are answers to a few common questions that come up for people when building their emergency fund.
How much money should I have in my Emergency Fund?
You should build your emergency fund to a level where it will be able to cover all of your bills and expenses for 3 months.
Where should I keep my Emergency Fund?
Your emergency fund should be kept in a separate bank account that is different from your normal savings and checking accounts. I usually recommend a money market account that has around a 2% interest rate.
How often should I put money away?
Focus on building a habit and consistency around putting money away in your emergency fund. It is better to form a discipline of putting a smaller consistent amount in savings than sporadic larger amounts.
How can I save when I don’t have a lot of money to begin with?
Start with what you have no matter how small it is, every dollar counts, especially in an emergency (such as a pandemic). Anytime you get paid, no matter how little, take some off the top right away and put it toward your emergency fund.
Should I still put money in my emergency fund during the pandemic?
If you have the capacity to do this, yes. Always try and build up your emergency fund. Redirect any extra cash you have right now toward increasing your emergency fund.
Strategic Response: COVID Financial Coping & Support
Now, you might be thinking, “Well that’s all well and good, but COVID is going on its 3rd month now of shutting down our economy. Even if I had an emergency fund, I would be running out of money pretty soon. What do I do now?”
Great question. The situation with COVID is a unique one. There are certain options you have now that you may not have during other kinds of emergencies. And I will go over some of them below.
However, there are 3 core principles that you should always keep in mind when you are facing any kind of emergency or uncertain economic times. Resilience. Resourcefulness. Research.
#1: Resilience: your attitude
Strategy is king, and resilience is nourishment. Because sometimes even with the best plans, things can change in a moment’s notice. When you adopt the posture of being a resilient problem solver vs. being a victim of your circumstances, you will be able to find a way.
This is a mental posture that will help you during economic hardship, and is just as important as having money in the bank when times get tough. Cultivate your resilience, and you will have a resource that will help you build your finances for life.
#2 Resourcefulness: your approach
Connected to resilience is the approach of being resourceful. Put your pride aside. Ask for help when you need it. When you decide that you have options that are yet to be discovered, you open up the door to your own sense of empowerment.
During an emergency like a pandemic it’s important to be resourceful. Don’t have what you need? Find another way. Ending up at dead ends? Consider options you have never considered before. Look for hidden resources around you. DIY what you can. Find ways of conserving money. Being resourceful includes both frugality, seeking help from different sources, and creatively making new options for yourself.
#3 Research: for action
Do your due diligence. Research your options thoroughly, and be well informed. Don’t be too quick to jump on unproven theories and hair-brain schemes. Be resourceful and resilient, but don’t be flippant and sloppy. Be responsible with the ways you make moves.
Healthy research is necessary for effective resourcefulness.
COVID Specific Financial Strategies and Options.
Keeping the above principles in mind, take a look below for a quick check-list of some of your current options for financial support and strategies during COVID.
Government support and policies
🔳 File for unemployment checks if you're furloughed or laid off.
🔳 If Coronavirus has affected your job, you can touch the money in your IRA's/401K'S/403B's without a penalty due to the CARES ACT.
Support from private financial institutions
🔳 Try calling your credit card company, some are delaying interest for up to 3 months. (Disclaimer: You STILL will owe the debt though)
🔳 Try calling your student loan company, some are delaying interest charges.
🔳 Some banks charge fees if you do not swipe your card a certain amount of times, I would stay away from banks like these (especially now while you're swiping less)
Re-allocation of personal financial resources.
🔳 Take dividend payments from your investments as cash instead of reinvesting them.
🔳 Take any extra money and put it toward an emergency fund.
Budgeting & Frugality
🔳 Adjust your budget knowing staying at home may increase utility cost and groceries.
🔳 Immediately stop extra expenses for things you don’t need (i.e. non essential products and services.)
🔳 Limit snack consumption and purchases, snacks end up being 25% of an average person’s grocery bill. (If you spend $400 on groceries, that means $100 of it were snacks and things you just "wanted".) Practice self-discipline and cut out the fluff.
🔳 Turn your electric items off when you're not using them to save on electric bill during this time. This includes your air conditioning and lights.
🔳 Download MINT, a free app that'll help you keep track of your expenses.
🔳 Downgrade to cheaper brands until your income is back to normal. If you know you will consume a lot of something try and buy in bulk to save money.
🔳 Gas is the cheapest it has been in a while, even though you may not be driving as much, try to fill up your tank before the prices go back up.
🔳 This is a great time to cook or learn to cook, as it can significantly reduce your monthly food expenses versus regularly buying restaurant-made food.
Prioritize self-care and take extra precautions
🔳 Make sure you do not forget about your mental health. Find the support and personal resources you need to keep yourself in a positive mental space.
🔳 Make sure you check your bank accounts and credit cards at least 3 x a week to check for expenses you forgot about and fraud. (Fraud has gone up during quarantine.)
We have no idea when this pandemic will come to an end. For right now, the best thing you can do is settle into a new normal that is going to be supportive of your financial and personal well-being in the long run. Especially with protocols around being frugal and resourceful when it comes to your finances.
Keep in mind that your mental posture and attitude has a huge affect on everything else in your life. Strive toward building your resilience and resourcefulness. Make sure that you have the support that you need to keep you in a healthy state of mind during these challenging times.
If you would like help to figure out how to set up a monthly budget based on your changed circumstances or new income, remember that I am here to help you.
Contact us here, to set up complimentary consultation with someone on our team. We are in this together. We will come out the other side of this forever changed, no doubt about it. But it’s up to us whether we come out changed for the better, or for worse.
The power is still in your hands.