If you are experiencing any kind of income interruption right now, whether it’s reduced hours or unemployment, coupled with the effects of COVID-19 on our lives and economy, the stress can be excruciating.
The stress of knowing that your bills are going to be due and the lack of clarity about what options might be available to you only adds to all of the stress and feelings of isolation all of us are experiencing right now. All of that stress can easily lead us to throw our hands in the air in desperation, feeling completely defeated.
Instead, take a breath. Realize that even in the middle of a global pandemic where everything seems out of our control, there are still some things we can control. When it comes to your finances, consider these proactive steps you can take right now.
1. Adjust your budget. If you’re already experiencing a change or lapse in income or are worried one may be on the horizon, be proactive and adjust your budget now. This is the time to take care of the essentials: shelter, food, utilities, and transportation. Whatever non-essentials you can trim, this is the time to trim them. Hopefully these are temporary cuts, but cutting the fat from your budget is key. This is not figuring out the difference between wants and needs; this is the time to figure out what is essential for you to live and put whatever you can towards that.
2. Figure out what bills you can pay and how much you can pay. If your income has been effected by the pandemic, when it comes time to make house payments, rent payments, car payments, and utility payments, now may be the time to call and ask about hardship programs. Once you have your budget figured out and know what you can pay towards each bill, let your creditors know. This is not the time to avoid phone calls! Financial institutions and lenders are trying to figure out how to respond, too. Staying in communication and working together on a plan is key.
3. If you’re still employed and receiving regular paychecks, it’s still a great idea to focus on the essentials for right now. For instance, if you’ve been making extra payments towards debt, now may be the time to focus on minimum payments and putting as much as you can towards saving just in case.
4. Use your emergency fund! You worked hard to save that money for a time just like this, so don’t be afraid to use it on the essentials; worry about a plan to replenish it later. If at all possible, leave your retirement accounts alone. Remember that there are tax implications and other penalties for taking early withdrawals from many accounts; speak to a financial advisor you trust before tapping retirement funds.
5. Stay up to date on government assistance. We all need to take opportunities to unplug from the news cycle right now, but make sure you stay informed about any changes to unemployment and government assistance. From SNAP benefits to Medicaid, this is not the time to let your pride get in the way of needed assistance.
These are unprecedented times and most of us are just trying to figure it out as we go. Remember, even when the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, take a breath. We’ll figure this out together.