Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. But now things are slowly starting to open back up again, and that means the quarantine and #QuarantineLife is ending for millions of Americans who have been cooped up in their homes for weeks.
Some folks will be getting out of quarantine faster than others, but most states have already reopened or plan to start lifting some of those restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.1
What does that mean for you? Well, first of all, you’re going to have to start wearing pants again. Bummer. But this is also a good time to take a fresh look at your financial situation. Here are six things you can do to get your finances back on track as you emerge from your quarantine cave:
1. Reassess your current situation.
When this crisis began, you might have gone into “survival mode” and focused on taking care of the Four Walls—that’s food, utilities, shelter and transportation—and nothing else. You canceled your streaming accounts, told the credit card companies to wait their turn, and called off that vacation you had on the books for months.
It was tough, but you did what you had to do! And now as the quarantine winds down, it’s time to take a step back and look at your current situation with a fresh pair of eyes. That way, you can make decisions that make sense for your situation!
Are you still out of work, or feel like your income isn’t very stable? Then you might need to stick with the Four Walls for a little longer—at least until you can get your income situation sorted out.
But if you still have your job (or got a new one) and feel like you’re in a secure situation, it might be time to start attacking your financial goals again—whether that’s getting out of debt or saving for a down payment on a house.
- Make sure your income is stable. You may have changed jobs and that’s fine—as long as you have a steady paycheck and things are stable.
- Remember, facts trump fear. Take a deep breath and see if the facts are on your side.
- Before you emerge from financial quarantine, make sure you’re caught up on your bills and debts so you’re not adding interest charges and penalties.
2. Revisit your monthly budget.
There’s no denying it: It’s been a weird few months. And if you were stuck at home during quarantine, your budget probably felt really out of whack.
Working from your living room with nowhere else to go, you probably went weeks without having to fill up on gas. On the flip side, you probably spent more on toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the last two months than you have in your entire life!
Now as things slowly shift back to “normal,” whatever that looks like, you might need to start adjusting your budget back to where it was pre-coronavirus as you start driving more and getting back into the swing of things.
But maybe this quarantine has helped you realize that some things shouldn’t go back to normal. Maybe all those banana bread recipes you baked during the quarantine have inspired you to avoid eating out as much as you did before. And those free workout videos on YouTube and walks around the neighborhood helped you feel the burn without the gym membership burning a hole in your budget.
The point is that you have a chance to pick and choose what comes back into your monthly budget and what stays out—don’t waste it!
3. Get back on the Baby Steps.
No matter where you were on the Baby Steps when things shut down, you probably needed some time to pause as you navigated through life in the land of COVID-19.
If you’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to attacking your debt snowball with gazelle intensity or saving for retirement again, now might be the time to get on it—especially if you still have your job and feel like your income is stable:
- If you’re on Baby Steps 1–2: Once you have at least $1,000 saved up, get that debt snowball rolling again so you can attack your debts as fast as you can. Having debt lying around will leave you financially vulnerable if another crisis or emergency hits, so get it out of your life once and for all.
- If you’re on Baby Step 3: With millions of Americans losing their jobs or getting furloughed, many folks had to dip into their emergency funds to keep things going. If you’re back at work and have a steady income, it’s time to get that emergency fund back up to 3–6 months’ worth of expenses.
- If you’re on Baby Steps 4–7: Whenever you see a storm coming—whether it’s an impending job loss or a global crisis—it makes sense to pause contributions to your 401(k) and IRA, deposits to the kids’ college funds or making extra payments on the house. That way, you can pile up a little more cash for the essentials. But now that the clouds are starting to break, you might feel comfortable picking up where you left off.
And if you’ve kept the money from your stimulus check in a holding pattern within your bank account, you might feel comfortable enough to throw that money at whatever Baby Step you’re on!
4. Make a plan for action items you put off.
Maybe you had plans to put new tires on your car, take your kids to the dentist or install a new HVAC system earlier this year. But then the pandemic happened and, all of a sudden, those things on your to-do list couldn’t get crossed off just yet.
But as businesses start opening up again with social distancing measures in place, you might be thinking about pulling the trigger on some of those action items you’ve been putting off. Just make sure you have them accounted for in the post-quarantine budget.
If you feel like your situation is stable and you have the money budgeted for those repairs, appointments and purchases (without dipping into your emergency savings), then go for it.
5. Keep a lot of cash on hand (just in case).
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we need to be prepared for whatever life throws our way. Today, it’s a global pandemic. Tomorrow, it might be an invasion of murder hornets (look it up).
If you piled up cash during the crisis, good job! If possible, it still might be wise to have a little extra cash in your emergency fund for the rest of the year—just in case. Having a large pile of money in the bank gives you flexibility to stay calm and turn almost any emergency into an inconvenience.
6. Check in with your financial advisor.
A lot of things have changed in the last few months. Now that things are straightening out, it’s a good time to check in with your financial advisor. Not only can they go over your investments with you, but they can also offer guidance on any financial plans that may have changed or temporarily shifted.
If you had a job loss or change and have a 401(k) from a previous employer that needs rolling over, they can help you get that squared away. And they can help you take a step back and look at the big picture.
SmartDollar will be with you every step of the way as things transition back to normal. Be sure to log in often and keep your eyes on your inbox for tons of resources and content to help you with your money.
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