If you’re feeling anxious and confused out about the coronavirus, you’re not alone. But chances are it’s not just the health concerns that have you binge watching news reports and endlessly scrolling through social media. As more and more businesses are forced to cut hours or closing down until further notice, the hit to our wallets is making it just as hard to breathe. We want to stay well. We want to stay alive. But with more than 80% of us living paycheck to paycheck, losing even one week’s pay – much less months’ worth – is today’s Freddy Krueger nightmare.
Unfortunately, turning the channel isn’t an option (though I do recommend binge-watching puppy videos and eating chips and salsa). And while tempting, it’s also not a good option to just hide under the covers – at least financially.
Somewhere between binge watching puppy videos and CNN last night I also found myself lip syncing to Janet Jackson’s Control playing in the background. (Don’t judge… apparently chips and salsa in large enough quantities recreates in your brain the crazed mentality of a 2 year old after a basket of Easter candy. Anyway…) There I was halfway through the song –
“Got my own mind
I want to make my own decisions
When it has to do with my life, my life
I wanna be the one in control
So let me take you by the hand,
and lead you on this dance (chorus) Control”
(And no, I’m a rhythm-challenged older white woman, I will NOT recreate the moment you’re just going to have to imagine it on your own.)
We certainly don’t have control over this pandemic – at least not yet. But it’s a good reminder to focus on what is in our power to do. So if you’re stressed and struggling to make ends meet, here are a few tips to help ease the stress and get you focused on what you can do right now for yourself.
- Take a deep breath.
Between 24/7 news reports and social media, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions, fear, and craziness. As human beings, we rarely make good decisions in those situations – especially with our money. So give yourself a break. Stop, take a breath, and focus on one thing at a time.
- Take time to go over your finances right now.
What was ‘’normal’ for us 2 weeks ago, doesn’t apply now. You may have been laid off, your hours may have been cut. And even if we’re still working right now – that could change. (Go back to Step 1 here if you need to. It’s okay, we’ll wait for you.)
Take a few minutes to do a simple Emergency Budget. And remember, I said “simple”.
Take a pen and paper and write down all your expenses. This isn’t to make you feel bad (or worse), it’s just to make sure you’ve got a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be taken care of. We’ll worry about the ‘how’ as we move forward. Right now, we just need to get everything on paper where we can see it.
Finished? Great! Take a break, grab a Snickers, watch a video of puppies or kittens and come back when you’re done.
Feel better? Okay, now it’s time to see where we can tighten the belt a little. Highlight everything that is a “Need” – rent, utilities, cell phone, car, gas, groceries, credit cards, loans, etc. Next, circle all the “Wants” – eating out, Netflix, Hulu, nails, shopping, concerts, gym memberships.
The good thing – if there is one- is that several of these are going to go down on their own the less we’re able or willing to go out. The rest -particularly online shopping and streaming services – those are the ones you can decide to limit yourself on.
- Use community and government assistance programs.
Both federal and local governments are working on putting programs in place to help during this crisis. There aren’t a lot of details available yet, but we’ll be working here at Prosperity Connection to keep you informed about the latest updates and who you can contact.
In the meantime, there are many resources already available to help. Local food pantries are available in most areas of the city and county that can help with groceries. There are organizations that can help with utility bills. Your local churches, synagogues and mosques may also be able to offer support.
If you’re in need, don’t be shy or ashamed about leaning on them right now. Anything that takes a load off your wallet right now is a good thing.
- Contact your creditors right away.
If you’re not able to make your payments you need to let your creditors know – and the sooner the better. Don’t wait. Don’t try to ignore it. Most companies, credit cards and financial institutions are willing to work with you on payment arrangements – which is easier and often less costly to them than going through a collection or repossession process. They may be able to defer payments or arrange for smaller payments for a time. You’ll never know if you don’t talk to them.
If you have student loans, contact your servicer to see what your options are. They may be able to help with income-based plans which may lower your payment – even to as low as $0 per month.
- Avoid payday and title loans.
It may seem like the best – the only – option, especially during a crisis like this. But please remember they are in business to make money. A lot of money. The average interest rate on a payday loan in Missouri is 444%. Yes, you heard correctly – 444%. More than that, they’re often required to be paid back in full within 1 – 2 weeks. Chances are, if you have to borrow it this week you’re not going to have that amount plus all that interest just lying around to pay back two weeks from now. And then you’ll have penalties and roll-over fees tacked on as well and being deeper in debt than where you started.
If you find you need to go this route, check out Prosperity Connection’s RedDough Money Center which offers significantly better interest rates. Whatever you decide, read the fine print, know what you are signing, protect yourself.
- Stay connected!
At a time when we’re all being asked to self-isolate and social-distance, it may sound crazy to say ‘stay connected’ – but it’s important to remember none of us is in this alone. There is help. Some of it is available now, more is on the way. Call us, email us, go to our website. We’re here and continuing to work every day to help you find answers and handle whatever comes your way – financially (you’ll need to call someone else if you run out of chips and salsa).
This will get better.
Until then be safe, practice your dance moves, find something to laugh about, and wash your hands. As Janet says:
“So make your life a little easier …
When you get the chance just take (chorus) Control”
Hope Johnson, Prosperity Connection Financial Coach