So many people are under stress this year and will be well into next year because so many things in our lives are uncertain.
During the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of what you should do next.
Because when you are overwhelmed, your reasoning goes out the door and you just go into panic mode!
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
How Can You Be Okay in Uncertain Times?
I get it – it’s hard to know what you are supposed to do when things feel so up in the air. I feel that way and I’m an expert at finances! It’s okay to feel unnerved about all of this – it’s new to all of us.
As a CPA, I feel like I’ve basically been preparing for this my entire adult life and it’s STILL nerve wracking to go through this pandemic.
I wanted to write this post to help anyone who is wondering what you can do to survive financially when life is uncertain like it is right now.
I like making contingent plans for our finances, even when things are going relatively well (aka we’re not actually in crisis mode yet). That’s because I’m a planner by nature anyway….probably why I became a CPA!
I will say that even though I am a CPA, I am not YOUR CPA, so please don’t take this article as any sort of literal financial advice you MUST adhere to no matter what. I’m just giving you some guidelines that you can adapt to your individual situation.
Step 1: First Things First – Pay Down Debt
The first thing you can do when life is uncertain – but you’re not in the middle of an extreme financial crisis at the moment – is to pay down debt.
Debt is the number one thing that drains your finances unnecessarily month after month.
And if for some reason you had to come up with money to survive, as in, you need cash for food and shelter and clothing…the last thing you want to be doing is worrying about how to pay down a credit card or make a car payment.
So, if you can, the first thing you can do when facing uncertain times is focus on paying down any debt that you have that you owe a bank or a creditor in any way.
This could mean not going on a vacation so you can use those funds to pay off your vehicle. Or it could mean not eating out at restaurants for several months and paying off your credit card balance.
Whatever you can reasonably do toward paying down the amount you owe is great!
Step 2: Build Up Your Emergency Savings “Money Cushion”
The reason you want to do this is because it is important to be able to have access to money when you need it in an emergency.
If your life is uncertain right now because you think you are about to lose your job, or you don’t know what the future holds in terms of expenses, then you need to plan as if anything could happen. That way, if you need cash at a moment’s notice, you will have it in the bank!
In the face of anxiety over the unknown, building up your emergency fund by saving as much money as possible in advance of a true emergency is a great plan. Even if you don’t have to do it right at this moment, it’s a prudent way to manage your finances.
I recommend opening up a second bank account just for this purpose. You can read more about this strategy in the post The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Finances >>
In good times, I recommend having 6 months worth of expenses in an easily available savings account; under uncertain conditions, I would say up to a year’s worth of savings is a good stretch goal.
If that’s not possible, then get as close as you can just in case. When things aren’t stressful again, you can always invest the extra surplus.
Step 3: Evaluate Your Expenses & Figure Out What is Necessary vs What Isn’t
What when your life is uncertain and you don’t know, for instance, if you’re going to have a job long term or if your health is going to stay as good as it currently is, then you need to understand what your overall financial picture looks like.
If you just overspend all the time and you don’t know where your money goes, that is a problem.
I’m not saying you have to go crazy and stick to a strict budget, but the first step is figuring out what that budget is going to be.
Once you figure out what you actually HAVE to spend money on, then you can identify areas to save money.
Monthly expenses you have to make are things necessary for living, like housing + clothing + food.
These days, I would also consider health insurance a necessity for warding off financial ruin in case of a health emergency.
Things like vacations, extra clothing, expensive gadgets, or anything that you don’t actually need to live can be cut from your budget or just purchased at a lower price.
The beauty of taking this step to identify unnecessary expenses is you will know exactly what to cut first in case of an emergency! 🙂
Once you get really good at saving more, you can then use the cash savings for paying down debt and setting aside cash for your emergency fund.
Step 4: Start Acting Like You EXPECT the Emergency to Happen
What I mean by this is to expect the best but plan for the worst.
I don’t recommend panicking and, you know, selling your house because you think you might lose your job. That is an example of going overboard.
But what you can do is pretend like you don’t have any money… and then stop eating out at restaurants accordingly and cooking all of your meals at home, for example. This might seem drastic to some and easy for others….point is that you practice when you don’t have to, just in case you have to go into emergency mode.
It’s actually a good financial rule of thumb to brainstorm potential financial emergencies (like a job loss or medical emergency) and make contingency plans. It’s the same idea as holding a practice tornado drill or fire drill. You can practice financial drills! 🙂
Business owners do it all the time; it’s a great practice for individuals to do as well. Whether you are a teacher or doctor or police officer, you can prepare your household finances in advance just like a business would.
The money you save from practicing the emergency situation will help you with meeting your first two goals of building up emergency savings and paying off debt because you have extra cash to do so!
I love this idea for families, especially, because there’s nothing wrong with teaching your kids the value of being thrifty. Instead of making it feel like a burden or waiting until you have an actual emergency on your hands, even a decent effort toward eating most of your meals at home and planning around store sales for purchases like birthday gifts makes a good lesson for the kids!
Setting Yourself Up Financially For Life’s Downturns
All of these tips work together to make sure that you are financially secure. I personally follow these steps to help prepare us to weather any emergency financial storm that comes our way.
I hope this helps you. If you are so inclined, you may want to pick up a copy of my Home Management Success Kit which will help you with many of these goals from meal planning to financial planning and setting goals for your family.
As we all know, setting yourself up properly to weather a financial emergency does not start with the day that you have emergency.
It starts with advanced planning and understanding that life is always uncertain, to an extent.
We can prepare ourselves to the best of our ability. Here’s to making it through uncertain times without any major financial hiccups!
Related Budgeting Advice:
- The Only Budget Spreadsheet You’ll Ever Need – a wonderful resource if you love Excel and want to have a done-for-you file to jump right in!
- 52-Week Money Saving Challenge – a fun way to save cash for any goal
- How to Start a Budget – in this post, I walk you through exactly what to do first
- Tips for Living on ONE Income – I wrote this for women who want to quit their jobs and be stay-at-home-moms, but it is also great for anyone experiencing an unexpected job loss or even a planned maternity leave.
- 63 Theme Night Meal Ideas