The coronavirus pandemic has created a very uncertain financial market environment. Despite this, your long-term financial goals are probably still the same: buying a house, getting your kids through college, starting your own company, giving back, and retiring on your own terms.
The path towards those goals might have swerved a little since the beginning of the year, and some have suffered a big set-back. If you are still working and your income hasn’t been disrupted too severely, these three steps will keep you heading in the right direction.
The pitfalls of unchecked spending and online shopping haven’t changed just because you’re ordering essential supplies and food in a crisis. When almost everything you want is just a click or swipe away, it’s all too easy to buy everything. You might think you’re spending less just because you’re not going out for meals and entertainment right now. If you’re not keeping track of your clicks, you won’t really know until you get your credit card bill at the end of the month.A little bit of planning and budgeting can prevent a major spending shock. Take stock of what you really need before logging into your shopping account. Schedule a week or two of meals so you’re not ordering out too often. Think before you click on every discounted movie, online class, or entertainment subscription that pops up on your screens.
You can also take a look at any subscriptions and extracurricular activities you won’t be able to use during social distancing. Call up your local theatre company, your kids’ soccer team, your gym, and see what options you have for recurring charges or fees you’ve already paid. You might want to keep supporting some of these organizations if they’ve moved their content online. In the short-term, it may be better to recoup the money now.
- Build up your emergency fund.
Your stay-at-home budget should be less than what you’re used to spending in a typical month. For most folks, the best use for extra funds is to build up your emergency savings account. Even when interest rates are low, we recommend that you have enough money set aside to cover six months of your living expenses.Having a reserve could be critical in this crisis, especially if there’s a sudden health issue or necessary home repair. Once we get to the other side of this crisis, a healthy emergency fund is going to be an important cornerstone of your retirement plan.
Keep in mind that if what you’re saving on gas, daily Starbucks, and twice-weekly carryout lunches is getting swallowed up by your online shopping, it’s time to take another look at that budget.
- Give responsibly.
It’s been inspiring to see communities rally around restaurants and other small businesses that have adapted to social distancing. Many of these establishments have implemented contactless delivery or curbside pickup to keep customers safe and helps sustain small businesses. People are also buying gift cards and donating to funds that support the newly unemployed, charitable organizations, and health care professionals.We’re glad that the pandemic has inspired charity and goodwill in so many people, but remember that giving is still spending. If going out to dinner three or four nights every week would hurt your normal budget, delivery will do the same. Buying every gift card and donating to every cause could throw off your budget just as easily as overspending on groceries. Even your best intentions need to have limits.
If you are facing a time of uncertainty, setting a goal to work toward can give you a piece of security, stability, and peace of mind when you might otherwise have none. Goals give us direction and allow us to measure our progress. A clear goal gives us the chance to see we are improving, the steps to take to meet them, and have significant impacts on the quality of your life and happiness.
Stay focused and keep heading in the right direction.