Financial Steps to Get Through the Pandemic
by Angela Barbash
Here are some simple steps to take now to help manage the uncharted territory of the future. Analyze the last three months of income and expenses to get a baseline of what’s coming in and going out. Some families use Mint, and others use YNAB (You Need a Budget), but even a good, old-fashioned Excel or a sweet BuJo spread can get the job done. The last three months is a bit-sized chunk that’s easier to swallow right now.
Figure out two versions of your runway. That’s a fancy term for how long can you pay your bills with no income coming in before becoming housing or food insecure. The general rule of thumb is to have three to six months of cash set aside in an emergency fund. Most Americans don’t have anywhere near that, but it’s still important to do a couple of versions of this calculation. The first version is with no change in your expenses. The second version is with a scale back in expenses.
We already know federal student loans are getting a two-month pause, so put that on the list. Luxury food, pauses on other debt payments, canceling memberships and subscriptions, and kids’ sports and enrichments may be other areas to target. Do the absolute best to get past that six-month runway benchmark. Get to 12 months if possible, because we have no idea when this will end.
Make an investment plan for your time, arguably the essential part of your investment portfolio, yet the most overlooked in a traditional financial planning setting. How you spend this collective pause in external activities will impact you for years to come. Pick up some new skills over at Coursera or Udemy, or listen in on webinars from all these professional educators sitting around with a laptop and things to say.
Get estate affairs in order. It might not be now, but eventually it will catch up with us. Do the family a favor and let them know how we’d like them to handle not only our passing, but an almost worse situation of our being alive, but incapacitated. A simple will package will include powers of attorney and medical directives for precisely these scenarios. Yes, we can DIY it online, but it’s better to call a local estate planning attorney to get some personalized help.
It’s hard to see stocks falling so dramatically and not want to jump in there to pick up some bargains. As the Sage of Omaha has so famously said, “Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy only when others are fearful,” so it’s not unwise to want to create our own personal COVID-19 index and buy some companies that we think will come out the other side of this thing looking good. Here’s an essential piece of advice, though: go into it with the idea that you will lose all of it. That may not happen, but we don’t know it won’t happen, and if we go taking vast chunks of retirement funds to “buy the dip”, we may regret it later if the dip turns out to be a slight tumble on the way down Mount Everest. Be conservative in risk-taking.
Make a list of go-to resource sites. Information is changing fast right now and everyone is scrambling to get resources in the hands of those that need them. Even if we don’t think we’ll need resources, it’s good to know where to turn should we need them. Bookmark the information pages for local town, county and state governments. Other good resources are a local United Way, community foundation and the Small Business Administration.
Plan for a share of bailout cash. Most of the people will likely receive a cash bonus to help cover the economic mess we’re all in because of mass shutdowns. Soon, we’ll know what that will look like, who will be eligible, and when they will get it. If your runway is two months without cutting back (or five months with cutting back), you might want to put it into savings. If your runway is eight months without cutting back, but you’ve suddenly realized this week that your tech stack sucks and you’re less productive at home, then you might want to invest it into better tools.
Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that your long-term health and wealth is dependent upon decisions you make today, so be prudent. From a financial advising perspective, these are wise, smart moves that anyone can take to have a better game plan for whatever else might be thrown your way.
Angela Barbash, CSRIC, is CEO and co-founder of Revalue, an independent registered investment advisory firm in Ypsilanti that provides financial planning services which foster the connections between clients, their community and their resources. For more information, call 888-642-2728 or visit RevalueInvesting.com.