Every part of our lives has been affected by this global pandemic—including our finances. World economies continue to contract. Industries are folding. Companies are sending employees home without jobs. But economies will eventually rebound, new industries will emerge, and companies will hire again.
If the hardships of the pandemic have caused you to examine your financial sore spots, you're not alone. Between virtual work meetings and online happy hours, it's possible to create a financial plan that will allow your future self to flourish. Start by incorporating some of these money moves into your post-COVID-19 blueprint.
Understand your spending triggers. During stressful times, it's common to impulse buy and overspend as a way to cope. For some of us, spending offers a sense of control, escape, and momentary joy. If you've noticed an uptick in your emotional spending, forgive yourself, and then move to action: Limit your time on platforms with aggressive advertising, unsubscribe from email lists that sell nonessentials, and unlink your bank accounts and credit cards from too-hard-to-resist shopping sites.
Build an emergency fund that makes you proud. How long could you live off your savings? Prior to COVID-19, many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly 28.7% of Americans rely on their next paycheck to keep them afloat. With a sleepy, bear market and a recession around the corner, widespread job loss is inevitable.
But you can get prepared for these tough times. Aim to stash away at least six months of your net income in an online account that you can't readily access (this keeps you honest). If your savings account is too tempting, try an automated savings program like Digit or Qapital. In most cases, emergency funds are in the five-figure range and require steady and consistent effort to achieve.
If you don't know where you'll find the money, start with the low-hanging fruit: put away all of the money you've saved from being quarantined and working from home. This includes money saved from commuting, eating out, clothes shopping, and personal hygiene or grooming services. Similarly, if you're a recipient of a federal stimulus check, earmark some or all of it toward your emergency fund.
Take advantage of suspended federal student loan payments. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), borrowers will not have to make payments or pay interest on their eligible federal loans until September 30 of this year. Consider this as an opportunity to accelerate your pay off. If you can afford to maintain your pre-CARES Act payment schedule, stay the course. You'll reduce the life of your loan and reduce the overall amount of interest paid on the loans, saving you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Pay off high-interest credit debt ASAP. Similar to repaying education loans, you're ultimately on the hook for all of your outstanding credit card debt, pandemic or not. Review your budget to see where you can find extra cash. Have you canceled all unnecessary subscriptions or unused monthly memberships? Can you stretch your grocery budget by eating what you already have to reduce the number of trips to the supermarket? Are there any rebates you haven't mailed in? Have you used your credit card cash back rewards toward your debt? Have you considered negotiating the interest rate on your credit card? If you have good to excellent credit, have you considered consolidating your credit card debt or taking advantage of a free balance transfer promotion? Do you need to buy more toiletries or hair products this month? Maybe just use that Zoom filter instead.
These types of budget audits allow you to discover money hiding in plain sight. Place this newfound money into a bills account and direct it toward one of your outstanding credit card balances.
Don't touch your investments. Long-term investing is meant to last years or decades. As emotions run high during uncertain times, revisit your investment plan, which details your goals and the strategies you'll use to achieve them. This includes investing a certain amount each pay period (if you receive a raise in the future, consider increasing your contribution for continued financial health). Doing so will help you move through a volatile market with a level head.
Learn the house rules. If you've been financially impacted by COVID-19, you might have concerns about how you'll be able to pay your mortgage. If you can't pay your mortgage or can only pay a portion and your mortgage is privately owned by a bank, contact your mortgage loan servicer or property manager immediately to learn about the relief options, which vary greatly.
If your mortgage is federally backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you have two major types of relief under the CARES Act. The legislation blocks lenders from starting foreclosure proceedings on federally backed loans for at least 60 days starting on March 18. It also gives homeowners who are experiencing financial hardships because of COVID-19 the option to request up to 180 days of forbearance on their mortgage. That forbearance allows you to pause or reduce your mortgage payments, but it's not loan forgiveness. If, after six months, you're still experiencing financial difficulties, you can request up to another 180 days.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers clear and up-to-date information on how to navigate this murky terrain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear we need to be vigilant about managing our finances at all times. While we'll never have full control over our financial fate, there's still a lot we can do to stack the deck in our favor even in the craziest of times.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest