The financial implications of COVID-19 have impacted all of us to some degree. Those who have lost their jobs and businesses are struggling to stay afloat and the self-employed are seeking government support as they lose clients and contracts. Many have seen their pension or investments fall in value and others are delaying or pulling-out of house purchases. Money can't solve all of our problems but taking care of our finances in times of uncertainty is a key part of our overall wellbeing and mental health.
Here are 10 things you can do to help you grasp more in control of your money when times are tough.
No shame or blame
If you feel any sense of guilt or shame for not being financially prepared for a downturn like this, be kind to yourself. We are living through a global pandemic and none of us could have predicted the scale of the impact. You are doing the best you can, you are not alone and there is help available.
Give your finances a home
We're all home birds right now and our finances need a home too. This isn't about hiding your money under your mattress, it's about having somewhere to connect with your own financial situation in a way that makes sense to you. So, in a notebook or spreadsheet, write down your bank balances. Make a note of money coming in and out, links to your online accounts, expenses to review, questions you want to ask and providers you want to call.
Keep a record of any changes to your employment status or income that might support your case.
Keep a record of all correspondence and key financial dates
If you are applying for government support or negotiating with financial providers, you may be asked to provide evidence of financial difficulties resulting from COVID-19. Keep a record of any changes to your employment status or income that might support your case. If you agree to any payment holidays or sign up to any free trials, diarise key dates for when you are expected to start paying again so you can budget accordingly.
Get really clear on what you currently own and owe
Money likes to flow. It's tidal and we get used to its natural rhythm. We trust that just enough will come into our lives just when we need it, so we casually send it back out without too much thought. Sometimes, often unexpectedly, money can stop flowing altogether. In moments like this it's important to know what money you have, where it is, how accessible it is and what penalties or charges there might be to withdraw it. Ideally, we wouldn’t cash in investments at a time like this but it's important to know what options we have for all scenarios.
When there are feelings of uncertainty the last thing we might feel like doing is looking at the state of our finances, but it is one place where we can find certainty. It’s important to find out what we actually need and what we have to work with.
Carve out time
Many of us are adjusting to new routines and putting structures in place to maintain balance and productivity at home. Make sure you put time aside to review your money and commit to it like a regular meeting. Ask a partner or friend to do it with you or to hold you to account if you're struggling to stick to it.
How much money is 'enough' money? This is a difficult question to answer, but if your income has been impacted by COVID-19 knowing how much you really need to get by becomes essential. List out your must-have monthly spends and see if you could reduce them, then add them up. Give yourself a buffer that you're comfortable with and this becomes your monthly income target. You could also compare this number to any savings you have so you know how long they could last you.
Speak to all of your providers you have a financial relationship with and see how they can help you.
Ask for help and negotiate
There is a lot of empathy across financial providers right now and help is there if we need it. Go down your list of must-have expenses and see where you can get support. A mortgage holiday, payment breaks on rent, reductions to council tax, lower direct debits on bills, 6-month delays on MOTs or reduced interest on debts. Speak to all of your providers you have a financial relationship with and see how they can help you. Don't forget less frequent spends too, like insurances or service charges on homes.
Review your expenses
One silver lining of self-isolating is that some of our everyday expenses will be reduced. Look at February's bank statements and add up all costs you won't be spending this month. From a wellbeing perspective, think about your lifestyle before isolation. What things did you regularly spend money on that you are really missing? What things did you spend money on that you aren't missing so much? How much money are you saving by socialising virtually? How can you capture some of these changes as real savings? How might you use these insights to spend less when we're allowed outside again?
Reset your income expectations
From a wellbeing perspective, be aware of panic working to generate income. We inherently believe that being good with money means earning at least as much as we did last month - which can sometimes be an unhelpful and unachievable benchmark. Panic working will lead to burnout so it’s important to evaluate your income expectations for the next few months. As long as you are meeting your needs in these difficult times and earning enough to cover necessary costs, that's okay.
It also might be helpful to find out what income support you’re eligible for and apply as soon as possible. Lean on your accountant for help if you have one. These resources are also helpful:
Supporting and giving to others
Where we spend our money is often more impulsive than it is conscious. We have an opportunity right now to pause, reflect and reset our money habits. We can make a positive difference to ourselves, society and the planet when we think more deeply about what we do with our money. Think about some causes that really matter to you and how you might be able to support them financially with whatever you can afford. Donate to vulnerable groups affected by COVID-19, buy vouchers or products from local businesses. Support freelancers and help to promote their work or switch your bills or banks to more ethical options. This is a small way we can do our bit to help others in difficult times.
Most importantly, talk about it. Our finances can have a huge impact on our wellbeing, our mental health and our relationships. Sharing our concerns with others helps us realise we all have money worries and we're not alone. Have open conversations with partners, family members and friends or seek professional advice if you need it.
If you have any questions or comments, you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Stacey Lowman
Stacey has been a Certified Financial Coach since July 2016 with 10 years experience in the investment industry. She completed the Investment Management Certificate and Level 1 of the Chartered Financial Analyst Program (CFA). She has since paid off her student loan, bought her first flat as a single lady at 29, quit the big city salary for freelance 'freedom' and has just converted her first camper van, Maya.
Stacey currently works with individual clients, leads group workshops and partners with schools, charities and organisations to deliver financial wellbeing to their communities. She is also the Co-Lead for the Escape The City Career Change Accelerator, helping people to transition into work that matters to them and the world. Her diverse client base includes freelancers, professionals, creatives, graduates, vulnerable young people, teachers, senior leaders and founders, all with a wide range of income and wealth. Find out more here.