Many of us are having to deal with a situation that we weren’t anticipating for a long, long time: an economic downturn, combined with high rates of unemployment and creeping job uncertainty. Faced with decisions that we could not have predicted even a year ago, many people end up making avoidable mistakes that could cost them a lot. Not everyone will have the luxury of springing back unharmed from these mistakes, but hopefully reading this article will make it easier to minimize the impact from a wrong decision you may have already made and help you avoid financial pitfalls in the near future.
Here are some financial moves that require some smart navigation. Mistakes can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, so it’s helpful to have some guidance when you’re in one of the situations below:
Using credit cards instead of the emergency fund
It can really hurt to use the emergency fund that you’ve worked so hard to save for, but the alternative might be worse. An emergency fund is for when times are truly tough, so why would some people not want to use their rainy day funds?
Perhaps they don’t want to admit that they are in a desperate situation. By putting an emergency expense on a credit card, they could pretend that the growing credit card float is just normal day-to-day expenses. Their saver’s mentality is making it difficult to actually spend even when the situation is deserving of it.
This may require a slight shift in mentality from saving to spending. An emergency fund is not a sacred, untouchable object. It’s a tool, like many others, that you should use at the right time.
In the beginning of the year, many people got carried away with the market panic and sold off their investments without any plan or strategy for buying back into the market. No one can predict the market, not even the experts in the news. The market has recovered since the pandemic started, taken another deep dive, and jumped up again on news of a vaccine.
If you did happen to sell your investments and are now wanting back in, a phased approach is the way to go. Don’t wait for the market to dip again or buy all at once. You might also want to consider enlisting the help of a financial professional who can manage your portfolio for you — a good financial advisor will help you discover the emotional and mental biases you might have when it comes to your investments.
Stop saving and investing
The ‘wait and see’ approach doesn’t really work when it comes to saving and investing. If you thought you’d give it some time before you start investing again or halted your retirement contributions, consider signing up again at the earliest opportunity. Like we said earlier, no one can predict the future, but you might be missing out on some stock market returns and dividends. Plus, you should always invest with a long-term view of your finances, and over years any dip in your investments will be smoothed over thanks to the passage of time.
Not having ‘the talk’
If you have a family or are living with relatives during the pandemic, have you had a conversation about money? Maybe your parents could use some help with the groceries or the mortgage, or maybe your significant other is dealing with a potential job loss or pay cut. It’s painful to bring these truths out into the open but doing so will allow you to form a closer bond with the people you’re currently living with. The key to a successful money conversation is planning: give everyone time to come up with constructive ways of discussing their current money worries and maybe you’ll come up with some great solutions together.
We mentioned this in our holiday article, but don’t plan on spending a lot of money on gifts without first connecting with your loved ones. Who knows, by spending your money you might be putting them in an uncomfortable obligation to do the same.
Carrying money fear over into other areas of your life
You’ll find many people joking that 2020 is a write-off: travel plans were cancelled, weddings delayed, unplanned gap years taken, and employment opportunities left on the table.
Many companies announced layoffs and hiring freezes, inducing fear in the employees left behind. If you think that now is not the time to ask for a promotion that you were in line for or you stopped looking for jobs during the pandemic, make sure that you’re not stuck out of fear. By seeking increased responsibility and new opportunities during this time, you affirm that you are a valuable, forward-thinking worker and an asset to any organization. It might take some time (and therapy!) to get your career back on track, but it’s important to do the work.
‘Treating’ yourself in every area of your budget
If you haven’t yet revised your budget for the pandemic, this is one area that can show immediate results in your financial situation. Take an afternoon to look over all your automatic expenses — are there items you can cut out easily or are no longer using? Subscription services in particular creep up quite silently: do you have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO? Are you using all of them? Remember, you can always rejoin a subscription service (sometimes with a small discount) when your finances aren’t so uncertain.