Shelter in place. Lockdown. Quarantine. Whatever you call it, it’s been a few months since the COVID-19 pandemic taught us what staying home for an extended period actually looks and feels like.
These are unprecedented times. And although things are unpredictable right now, we can control our ability to emerge from this challenge differently than we entered it.
“Like everything in life, every challenge and every hardship is a lesson to be learned,” says Eric Simonson, a certified financial planner and owner of Abundo Wealth based in Minneapolis. Some of these takeaways are spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical. And some are financial.
Here are three pieces of money advice you can apply to your bank account, budget and lifestyle as life evolves after lockdown.
INSULATE AGAINST AN EMERGENCY
Financial experts believe this pandemic has illuminated the pressing need for emergency funds and cash reserves.
"Financial advisors for years, I think, with a lot of people, could talk until they’re blue in the face about why an emergency fund is a good idea," says Kevin Mahoney, CFP, founder of Illumint, a virtual financial firm based in Washington, D.C.
"But for people who were fortunate to have not actually experienced an unexpected medical event, a long-term job loss, whatever it might be, it can be hard to really convince people that this is a top priority for their money."
Now, job losses, furloughs and medical emergencies have provided a tangible example of why these funds are so important.
The general rule of thumb for an emergency fund is to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved. That may or may not be enough, depending on the circumstances. If you’re able, save something now. Even $500 is a good start.
PREPARE (DON’T PANIC)
Emergency readiness will likely also extend to home pantries. For better or worse, when frenzy sets in, consumers begin panic shopping. Americans have seen the repercussions of that firsthand – disinfecting wipes are still difficult to come by.
Forward-thinking consumers will likely begin to accumulate a reasonable amount of essential supplies or stock an emergency kit in case they're ever again unable to leave the house for an extended period.
"Consumers will adopt a mindset of 'sufficient stockpiling' as their awareness of life’s uncertainties has been magnified due to COVID-19," Ross Steinman, professor of consumer psychology at Widener University in Pennsylvania, said in an email.
While there’s no need to hoard, it may be beneficial to prepare in case other people once again panic shop for food and essentials at the onset of future emergencies.
You may want to employ savvy shopping strategies for those necessary items that you’ll continue to buy. That may include purchasing bulk quantities at a lower price per unit, using products more sparingly, or applying online coupons in an attempt to save money.
"During COVID-19, many consumers lost their primary source of income, or had it drastically reduced," Steinman said. "As a result, individuals will be aggressively searching for discounts and promotions."
SHIFT YOUR SPENDING
Monthly expenses will likely also look different moving forward. Mahoney believes the stay-at-home orders have acted as a budget reset for many.
"It’s hard to press pause on spending habits that you’ve had for many years," Mahoney says.
But for months now, most people have been left with no choice other than to stop traveling, dining out, attending concerts and going to the movie theater. Budgets have therefore skipped over expenses that used to be recurring.
Some of these new routines might stick even when life regains some sense of normalcy. (Maybe you’ll continue watching movies at home instead of in the theater or enjoy home-cooked meals more often). If these do stick, you may spend less discretionary money in the months ahead than you did before the pandemic began.
Through all three of these lessons, it’s clear living through a pandemic has served as an impetus to raise awareness about financial preparedness. A lot of people now seem to be more interested in budgeting and knowing where all of their money goes. “I think that will continue,” Simonson says.
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