So, friends, how is life?
Probably a lot different than it was just a month ago, eh?
Yeah. Coronavirus really sucks.
I’m in Colorado and the whole state is currently under a stay-at-home mandate from the governor. I imagine a lot of people are going stir crazy, being around their spouses 24/7 and their kids complaining every 5 minutes how bored they are.
This whole social distancing thing has been a huge disruption to millions of people. We can’t go to work, meet for coffee, go to the gym or the library. Many have lost their income, health benefits, and now need to dip into what little savings they have.
And some have lost loved ones.
This isn’t just a lifestyle hiccup. A lot of people’s lives (including mine) have been completely upended.
It could be easy to fall into a downward spiral of doubt and worry and fear. When things are bad, the unknown is super scary.
But, I’m trying to look for the silver lining in all of this. I want to make the most of this time with my family. I have lots of time to learn something new. I can work on projects I’ve been avoiding for years. And I can knock out a few financial chores that have been on my list for a while.
Money stuff isn’t the most fun, and it’s easy to put it on the back burner. Especially if “normal” life is already full and busy. But, now that excuse doesn’t really hold up.
I bet you’ve been avoiding some tedious and annoying money tasks as well. So, I put together this to-do list you can tackle while we’re all social distancing.
You can print out this post as a checklist to help you go through each step!
#1 Do a budget tune-up
With the economy as uncertain as it is right now, it’s a good idea to do a little budget tune-up.
Find those areas that tend to go over budget. This can often be groceries and dining out, but also discretionary expenses like entertainment and clothing. These are the categories that you can start restricting.
Depending on your situation, you may need to either cut down or eliminate anything optional. At the very least, find those leaks that are draining your account and make adjustments to save more money.
Also, make sure you’re being honest about what’s a necessity and what’s *not*. If you want your money to last, you’ll probably need to make some sacrifices, at least until things get back to some type of normal.
You might have to be on a bare-bones budget for a while. Take the time now (while you have it) to create a spending plan that will sustain you through this crazy time.
#2 Review your emergency fund
If you have an emergency fund already in place, you’re feeling a bit more secure than a lot of people right now. Everywhere you look are reports of layoffs, people losing their jobs, and unemployment claims skyrocketing. My husband was furloughed for 90 days.
Check your emergency fund balance and determine the best way to use that money. If you do become unemployed, you will definitely want to apply for unemployment. With the stimulus bill that was recently passed, you’ll get an additional 13 weeks and $600 a week above what your state benefit is. Don’t lose out on this!
Figure out what your total state benefit will be and make a plan for how your emergency fund will supplement that income. Then, if you can, continue to add to your savings. Even $25 a week is better than nothing.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, I imagine you’re feeling pretty anxious right now. My advice to you is don’t stress out. Stress affects your decision-making ability, so you want to be calm and clear-headed as you figure out your finances.
Do your homework and find out the options you have. Governmental support, unemployment benefits, deferment of debt payments, and retirement fund loans can all help you get through this difficult time.
#3 Go shopping
No, not that kind of shopping.
Call up your insurance agent and see if you can improve any of your premiums. Most people just stick with the same insurance plans year after year and never bother to find a better deal.
Well, you’ve got some time now – might as well try to save a few bucks. Rates tend to change rapidly, so it’s likely your provider could give you some new quotes that keep money in your pocket.
Also, do a little research on cheaper options for other expenses such as cell phone plans, cable, and internet service. In recent years, less expensive options have become available (like Ting or Republic Wireless).
As a new customer, you’re often given a temporary promotional rate. This is a great way to save extra right now while you’re tightening up your finances. Just make sure when the promotion ends, your regular payment is still a good deal.
#4 Find a better home for savings
If you’re stashing savings in a regular savings account, you’re losing out on extra money.
Spend some of your free time looking for a good high-yield savings account. As of the date this post was written, rates are hovering between 1.50% and 1.70%. Not much, but better than zero.
You’ll probably find the best options at online banks. They don’t have the expense of maintaining physical buildings, so can offer higher rates than the national average.
If you’re comfortable banking online, be sure to read the fine print that explains minimum balances and fees. Also, compare the tools that each online bank offers to find the best one that suits you.
#5 Lower your high-interest rates on debt
Pull out those credit card statements and took a good, hard look at what you’re paying in interest. *Fair warning*: you might get a little nauseous.
Now is a great time to figure out how to lower those interest rates. My personal strategy is to find the best 0% interest credit card promo I can find, and transfer all of my credit card debt to it. (Right now I have a U.S. Bank visa with 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 20 months.) Yes, I’ll have to pay a 3% fee, but that’s less than what I’d pay in interest.
If you have a good credit score (680 or above), you can consolidate your high-interest debt into a personal loan with a better rate. If your score is lower, call your card company and negotiate a rate reduction. Given the current climate, now is a great opportunity to arrange for more favorable terms with your debtors, especially if those terms allow you to continue making payments on time.
#6 Check your credit report
When was the last time you checked your credit report? If you’re anything like me, it’s been a while. It’s just one of those boring things to do that gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.
Well, if you’re home watching Netflix, turn off the TV and go request your free credit report. You’re entitled to one every 12 months from *each* of the 3 main credit bureaus.
You don’t need to pull all three at once. Pick one (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion), and then go to annualcreditreport.com and print yours out.
Look it over and confirm that all personally indentifiable information is still correct. Then, review all activity in the report to make sure everything is accurate and complete.
If you find anything that you don’t recognize, this could be fraudulent activity or a mistake. Either way, contact the business of that account and file a claim to have those activities investigated.
#7 Do your taxes
Although the federal government has extended the 2019 income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15, it’s a good idea to get your taxes done.
This way, you know what to expect.
If you’re due a refund, get that sucker filed as soon as you can. If you’re going to owe, you can adjust your budget to put a little extra in savings each month. Then, when July 15 rolls around, you’re better prepared to pay it.
The last thing you want to do is wait until the last minute. Either you’d be missing out on extra money now, or you’ll be hit with a bill that you might struggle to pay later.
You have the time now, so just bite the bullet and git’r dun.
#8 Assess your asset allocation
Right now, our 401k is down 25%. My husband and I got on the phone with Fidelity a few days ago and talked about things like financial objectives, risk tolerance, and asset allocation.
The rep told us that checking in with your retirement fund twice a year is a good idea, but quarterly is even better.
This is to keep an eye on your fund’s performance, and determine if the current investments are still in line with the level of risk you’re willing to accept.
I recommend calling up your representative or financial advisor and getting some input from a pro. If you haven’t rebalanced your portfolio in a while, now’s a good time to look at the options.
What you *don’t* want to do is “panic-sell” while the market is down. Talk to someone who can give you perspective and knowledgeable advice for your situation.
Don’t forget to download & print out this list to help you work through each step!
Make the most of it
Feelings like worry and anxiety can prevent you from seeing the big picture. It’s important to keep a proper perspective in such uncertain times, so make sure you’re seeking wise input. Turn off the news and close the paper if you have to.
Then, start doing something productive. You probably have projects around the house that have been waiting on the back burner for a while. Pull out those dusty board games and spend quality time with your family. Take a book off the shelf and learn something new.
And, take the time to do a little financial tune-up. Reviewing different areas of your finances will give you a realistic view of your current money situation, and let you know what needs adjustment or improvement.
I know it might be the last thing you want to do, especially if you’re feeling some fear right now. But, once you confront these financial chores and take control, you’ll feel empowered and equipped to handle any circumstance that arises from the current global crisis we’re all going through.
Even with all the chaos going on around us, we each have so much opportunity to make improvements. In relationships, health, personal growth, and yes – even finances.
So, don’t waste this precious time. Make the most of it, so you can come out the other end stronger and better for it.
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