The coronavirus pandemic has strained the finances of many U.S. households. In an August 2020 survey, 25% of adults said someone in their household had experienced the loss of a job due to the outbreak. Even among those who did not lose a job, 32% said someone in their household has had to reduce hours or take a pay cut due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.1 During these times of financial turmoil and stress, it’s more important than ever to take control of your financial situation. Here are some tips to get started.
1. Make sure your budget is on track. A solid budget is the centerpiece of any good financial plan because it will give you a clear picture of how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Hopefully, you’ve been able to stay the course during the pandemic and your budget is still on track. If you’ve experienced a loss or reduction in income, you may have to cut back on discretionary spending or look for ways to lower your fixed costs. Budgeting websites and smartphone apps can help you analyze your saving and spending patterns.
2. Maintain healthy spending habits. During the height of the pandemic, your spending habits may have changed dramatically. With restaurants closed, vacations postponed, and events canceled, many Americans found themselves spending less. If you were fortunate enough to save money during the pandemic, keep up the good work. If you spent more than you would have liked (e.g., takeout, online shopping), try to cut back and save what you can. Even small amounts can add up over time.
3. Check your emergency fund. If the pandemic has taught us anything financially, it is the importance of having an emergency fund. If you’ve had to dip into your cash reserve at some point over the past year to cover expenses, you’ll want to work on building it back up. Ideally, you should have at least three to six months of living expenses in your cash reserve. A good way to accumulate emergency funds is to earmark a percentage of your paycheck each pay period. When you reach your goal, you may still want to keep adding money — the more you can save, the better off you could be in the long run.
4. Deal with your debt. It is always important to stay on top of your debt situation and pay down debt from student loans, a mortgage, and/or credit cards as quickly as you can. If the financial impact of the pandemic has made it difficult to manage your debt, contact your lenders to see if they offer COVID-related financial assistance. Many may be willing to work with you by waiving interest and certain fees or allowing you to delay, adjust, or skip some payments.