As the head of an organization that teaches about personal finance, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some thoughts about managing your personal finances at this time. Big thanks to Herb – my dad
– who taught me a lot about managing my finances and had good advice for many.
1. Rethink your budget. Especially important if your income may diminish for a while. And, depending on your work circumstances, you may have a bit of time. To consider:
- a. Most of us still need to pay the basics – rent, food, various loans – but many of the nicer to-haves are not available right now (going out, going on vacation). Will savings from these activities cover your needs? Do they present an opportunity to save?
- b. Take the opportunity to look at your recurring monthly fees – e.g. streaming and subscription services. Do you need all of these? Can you modify them? Can you reallocate some funds to others that are more essential?
- c. Think about what you are spending on: Many organizations are offering entertainment for free – Why pay for a movie when you can stream, take a yoga class, or virtually visit a museum at no charge? Many companies, especially local ones, are offering pickup service and discounts – support your community and save at the same time, always taking care regarding unnecessary discretionary spending.
2. Identify helpful State Programs/Resources: If your income is reduced by a furlough, a layoff, or reduced revenues as a small business owner, check out resources that your state might have available to help you – new services and flexibility seem to be the order of the day.
3. Have the money talk: This is an opportunity to discuss money as a family. If you were wondering about finding the right time – this is a good one.
4. Do your taxes. File them if you are in for a refund, hold if you owe and might need that cash. Note: The IRS has extended the filing deadline and federal tax payments regardless of amount until July 15, but check your state for local tax changes and dates. Filing is particularly important if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
- a. The experts will tell you not to panic and sell out of fear. The market was just over 6,600 in March of 2009 at the bottom of the financial crisis. It is over 18,000 as I write after some of the worst daily drops ever.
- b. If your employer is still making a match to your 401K plan, try to keep investing enough to earn the match. E.g. if you are saving 6%, and the company is matching up to 4%, try to save at least at 4%. Why – first, that money is free. In addition, dollar cost averaging is now working in your favor (you can look this up for more details, but basically, equal amounts invested over time will, on average, lower your average share purchase cost).
- c. For the same reason, if you have an income and are spending less on other things, continue to invest a bit in your SEP, IRA, or 529 plans each month.
6. Look for alternative work: It might not be your dream job, but there are quite a number of local delivery jobs open right now. Help with outdoor yard and gardening chores. If you have expertise in a subject, you might be able to tutor students now taking classes at home.
7. Beware of new debt: It might be tempting to carry a balance on your credit card, borrow from your 401K or take advantage of low or no-cost financing for a while. Refer to my first point – if your budget says you cannot afford it, financing is probably going to make it more expensive. That said, for those of you fortunate enough to own a home, given low interest rates, refinancing or a home equity loan may be worth evaluating.
8. Volunteer: If you are lucky enough to have time and savings, you can help others to maintain financial stability. Deliver groceries to an at-risk person and don’t ask to be paid back; tutor for free; help prepare free meals. And the money you save by not going out or on vacation could go a long way towards meeting others’ basic human needs right now.