Feeling Nervous About Your Finances Right Now? Here Are 4 Ways to Reclaim Control
Of the many things we’re all worried about right now, money ranks pretty high on the list. The coronavirus pandemic has sent the economy into a downturn, and no one is sure when it will end. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, leaving many wondering how they’re going to make it through the next few months. Even if you haven’t lost your job, you might be worried about what the coming weeks hold and how to ensure your family’s financial security.
Here’s the good news—we aren’t helpless. Whatever your situation right now, there are ways to gain control of your finances and make smart decisions for you and your loved ones. Here are some ways to get by until we find our way to a healthier, calmer “new normal.”
1. Sign up for benefits if you’re eligible.
If you’ve lost your job, make sure to sign up for state and federal unemployment benefits. The government extended unemployment funds to gig workers and freelancers, so even if you work for yourself, you can still get help. The government also made allowances for people whose hours were cut, who can’t work because they’re quarantined, and who are high risk and could be exposed to the virus by going to work. If you’re home caring for a family member who is sick with COVID-19, you may be eligible for unemployment too.
Millions of Americans are entitled to economic impact payments as well (you may have heard people referring to these as stimulus checks). If you haven’t received yours, visit the IRS website, where you can track your eligibility and provide your direct deposit information so that you don’t have to wait months to receive a paper check.
2. Set aside an emergency fund.
Emergency funds are good to have no matter what is going on in the world. But with the uncertainty of the coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to save money for unexpected costs. If you can, set aside $500-$1,000 in a savings account and only use it for emergencies—like if your car breaks down, your hours get cut, or your child gets hurt and you have to pay your insurance deductible all at once. Eventually, you’ll want to have three to six months’ living expenses saved in case of future job losses or unforeseen time away from work. For now, though, save what you can. Knowing you have some cash to draw on can go a long way toward helping you sleep at night.
3. Work with your creditors if you’re struggling to pay your bills.
Managing your monthly payments may seem daunting in the face of this crisis, but the best thing to do is tackle any payment issues head-on. If you can’t pay your mortgage, rent, student loans, or other bills because you’ve lost your job, contact your creditors right away. They may be willing to suspend payments for a month or two or temporarily reduce your monthly bill amounts to something you can afford.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website has lots of resources on how to cope financially during this crisis along with information about your rights and reporting abusive creditors.
4. Get creative with your budget.
You’ve likely already cut obvious nonessentials from your budget, such as travel and take-out meals. Once you take a critical eye to your budget, though, you might find more creative ways to keep your costs down. Rather than pay for online workout classes, for instance, you might create a workout from free YouTube videos. Instead of paying for video rentals, opt for free content online, such as virtual tours of museums and national parks or broadcasts of Broadway shows. You may also be able to take advantage of free ebook and audiobook rentals through your local library or develop a new skill by taking free classes through sites like Coursera.
Be inventive in the kitchen as well. Before you place a grocery order or mask up to head to the store, scour your pantry and think of ways to use the ingredients you have on hand. The longer you can go between trips to the store, the longer your budget will last.
If you don’t share your struggles, your loved ones won’t know that you’re hurting. Talking through your problems may spark new ideas for how to cope, and people will know to share resources and job openings with you. The only way we’re going to get through this is together, so remember to stay connected with your loved ones no matter how tough this crisis gets.
This essay was featured in the July 12th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.