Has the COVID Crisis Hit Your Pocketbook? Take These Five Financial Steps Right Now
It goes without saying that we are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 crisis has shaken the foundation of all aspects of our daily lives.
It has often been said that money makes the world go around. Many of you reading this are in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty about money. As of this writing, an estimated 10% of Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. This, of course, is only the beginning. In the coming months we will start to see the true economic damage done. It isn’t going to be pretty.
The financial advice that an “expert” would normally give in a crisis doesn’t necessarily apply here. We are seeing things on such a large scale that the usual rules don’t always apply.
For the sake of this article, I think it is important to be honest. Many “financial experts” have been giving “advice” since the outbreak. Frankly speaking, a good deal of this advice is unhelpful. As I said earlier, we are living in unprecedented times. The financial advice that an “expert” would normally give in a crisis doesn’t necessarily apply here. We are seeing things on such a large scale that the usual rules don’t always apply.
As a certified financial counselor through the Association for Financial Counseling, Planning, and Education (AFCPE), I am trained and certified to help people in a financial crisis. I wanted to give some advice that will help you start to navigate these choppy waters:
1. Get advice from someone certified to give you advice.
You can find a certified financial counselor or coach at www.afcpe.org. You can find certified credit counselors at www.nfcc.org. I am not trying to knock financial advisers, planners, or folks that work at financial institutions (I swear I am not). However, their skill set isn’t necessarily geared towards dealing with a crisis, especially one on the magnitude of COVID-19 and its economic implications.
2. Get mentally prepared.
What does that mean? Fear can really do a number of us both emotionally and physically. In my 11 years of working with clients, I have seen a vast majority of folks paralyzed by the fear of the unknown. A lack of knowledge often leads to people making up their own realities. I have seen many clients convince themselves of a worst-case scenario that is not based in reality. So first figure out your fears and then do your research to find out facts. What can you control? Don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control. For instance, I had read that the Wisconsin unemployment office was getting 160 calls per second. That is a lot of calls! You can’t control that. However, you can control the time you put into getting your unemployment claim submitted. If you change your mindset that seeking the benefits you need to support you and your family is your new job, that will help your outlook. Dwelling on how hard it is to get through doesn’t help – it just stresses you out. The UW-Madison Extension put together a great resource list on steps to take if you are facing financial difficulty.
3. Make a list of your debts and expenses and then prioritize them.
Again, this may sound like a no-brainer, but the vast majority of clients I have worked with through the years have no idea how much money they owe. Sit down and figure out what you owe. Then determine what is a “want” and what is a “need.” Keeping a roof over your head is a priority. Putting food on the table is a must. You may have to make some sacrifices with cable or other entertainment-based expenses (however they may be willing to work with you given the nature of our crisis). We are creatures of habit. Often we get used to spending money a certain way, and over time this becomes second nature. Our current crisis is a good time to take a look at where our money is going and set new priorities.
No one likes confrontation. Many grown people have told me they are afraid to contact a creditor because they “don’t want to get yelled at.”
4. Contact your creditors.
For many people this is a tough one. No one likes confrontation. Many grown people have told me they are afraid to contact a creditor because they “don’t want to get yelled at.” It is true we associate a lot of guilt and shame with money. The reality is the person on the other end of the line is human, too. They probably are dealing with their own fears during the COVID-19 crisis. Remember my advice about controlling what you can. Here is an area you can take some control and minimize the fear of the unknown. Instead of sitting around with all this extra time worrying about what your landlord might do, or what the credit card company is going to do, give them a call. Better yet, send them an “explanation letter” telling them about your situation. You can Google “explanation letters” to find a template. Send that letter certified mail and now you have a paper trail showing that you were a responsible citizen. The reality is you can’t ignore your bills. So, the sooner you get on the phone and send a letter, the more peace of mind you will have.
5. Use your stimulus money wisely.
If you haven’t already gotten some stimulus money from the federal government, you likely will soon. For a long time, I have worked with clients dealing with extreme poverty. I have seen many people get some money and spend it quickly on impulse purchases. It may not make sense to some, but I get it! When you have been stressed about money and you suddenly have a little, you want to feel good if even for a moment. So, you may make an impulse purchase that you will later regret. Given that we don’t know how long this crisis will last, be very mindful of how you use any stimulus money, unemployment money, or tax refunds. Have a plan and try to make the money last!
These are just a few simple suggestions to help get you started. Remember, there are people out there who can help you. Also look at the silver lining. This crisis will pass. You will get through it! When you are standing on the other side of this difficult time, you may find that you have new and healthier ways of handling your finances. The Great Depression had significant and long-lasting impacts on many Americans and how they handled money. I have a feeling the COVID-19 crisis will have the same outcome and we will be better for it!
Adrian Klenz, owner of Klenz Financial Counseling in Eau Claire, is a certified financial counselor with certification through The Association for Financial Counseling, Planning, & Education (AFCPE).