The U.S. national unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in January 2020; as of June 5, it was 13.3 percent as millions were impacted by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Losing a job, or experiencing cut hours or pay, can take an emotional and financial toll. If you are still working, you may have anxiety about making ends meet if your job situation changes.
During times when much is out of our control, focusing on what we CAN control may help ease minds and strengthen finances. Here are five tips for managing money during the pandemic-and any other time your job situation becomes uncertain.
#1: Review your budget.
Even if you regularly monitor your household budget, think about taking a fresh look at your monthly spending on housing costs, utilities, loan payments, and other necessities. If you and your loved ones have been sheltering-in-place, it’s possible some expenses have dropped, like gas for the car or fees for the kids’ extracurriculars. Others, like groceries and utilities, may have increased. Now is the time to check.
Then, consider comparing the money being paid out each month with your income. That includes continued salaries, state unemployment benefits, and the direct federal stimulus payment and expanded unemployment benefits for which you may be eligible under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security(CARES) Act.
#2: Cut nonessential spending.
Some of this work may already have been done for you. If you were planning to attend an upcoming two-day bachelor or bachelorette party that would have cost $600 and that trip is now cancelled, you may be able to save that money or apply it to your bills in the event of an immediate shortfall. The same goes for money not spent on dining or ordering out as much due to restaurant restrictions in your area.
Combing through your monthly bills to find savings opportunities may also help. If you watch streaming services more than traditional TV, cancelling your cable service could save hundreds of dollars annually. So could switching from an unlimited to a pre-paid cellular data plan. The more you are able to cut back, the more you may be able to meet your monthly financial obligations, which is critical to maintaining a healthy credit score through the COVID-19 crisis.
#3: Take advantage of payment deferment programs for which you qualify.
On-time payments also are essential for maintaining a healthy credit score. Right now, the definition of “on-time” is more flexible thanks to a variety of COVID-19 financial relief options. Many utility, phone and internet companies have introduced hardship assistance programs that offer temporary free service, ensure uninterrupted access even in the event of late payments, and/or waive late fees for deferred payments for those who qualify. And most lenders have introduced temporary payment deferral options to help qualified consumers. PNC currently offers hardship assistance for mortgage, auto and student loan payments, credit card payments, and various lines of credit without penalty. Deferring a $500 car payment for 30 days could mean having more cash available to cover immediate essentials like food, prescriptions or medical care.
#4. Try to save.
Even during uncertainty, saving for the future is important. While many households are focused on making ends meet, the process of budgeting, cutting non-essentials and even deferring payments may help you find extra funds to save. Regardless of income level, a good allocation plan to strive for includes:
- 70% of income used to cover living expenses you deemed essential after reviewing your budget.
- 20% of income saved toward an emergency fund, with an initial goal of at least $1,000 to help cover unexpected expenses like car repairs or replacing a broken appliance.
- 10% of income saved toward long-term goals like college or retirement.
Even if it’s only $20 a month, putting that cash aside now can provide some breathing room later and could help you avoid taking on credit card debt to cover emergency expenses. Once you establish a monthly savings amount, consider setting up an automatic transfer from your checking to savings account so you don’t forget. If you received an economic stimulus check, consider saving that too, if you are able.
#5. Reset your goals.
Remember six months ago? Maybe you had a goal that in 2020 you would go on vacation, remodel the bathroom, or upgrade to a new car. Now those ideas may need revisiting. Successful financial goals are specific, realistic, and prioritize needs versus wants. For example, adjusting your expectations for a new car – by selecting a different new model or a used option – may help you achieve your goal within your new budget. Talking it through with a financial advisor or banker may offer you additional perspective and help you think more tactically, and less emotionally, about your goals.