The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting our lives in ways no one could have anticipated. Its most devastating impact has been the thousands of deaths worldwide since the outbreak began, but it may have even further reaching economic consequences.
Millions of Americans have already lost their jobs as businesses are forced to close to comply with social distancing regulations. Millions more could face the same fate as the disease continues to spread.
I don't need to tell you the next few months probably aren't going to be easy. We don't know how long this will continue, or how long it will take our economy to return to where it was before COVID-19 reached our shores. We just have to do the best we can right now, and adapt as the situation changes.
If you're one of the millions of Americans who has already lost their job due to the pandemic, here are a few steps you can take to make ends meet until life returns to normal again.
1. Apply for unemployment
Workers who are laid off due to COVID-19 restrictions are eligible for unemployment, which can help replace some of your lost income. Most states enable you to claim unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. Normally, there's a one-week waiting period, but some states are now waiving that for those who have been affected by COVID-19.
You can apply for unemployment benefits online, but it may take a while. Several state unemployment websites have crashed recently due to unprecedented demand, and others are staggering the days on which individuals can apply by the first letter of their last names to prevent these types of overloads. Check into your state's requirements to learn more about how to apply and how much support to expect.
2. Rely on emergency savings if you have them
If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to call upon it. Use these savings to supplement your unemployment checks to get you through the next couple of months.
If you didn't have an emergency fund already, you may be able to get some cash quickly by filing your taxes if you expect a refund. Submit your taxes as soon as possible so you can get your refund checks more quickly, and then keep that money in your bank account so you can access it easily when you need it.
3. Slash your spending
Eliminating discretionary spending isn't hard these days when so many forms of entertainment -- movie theaters, sports arenas, restaurants, amusement parks -- are all closed. But if there are any discretionary spending items left in your budget, you might want to consider cutting them if you're struggling to make ends meet.
You can also make small changes to help decrease your essential costs, like lowering your thermostat or the temperature on your water heater by a few degrees to save on energy costs. You should also limit how much you travel, both for public safety reasons and to save on transportation.
4. Talk to your bank about hardship relief
Several banks and credit card issuers have begun announcing hardship relief assistance for customers affected by COVID-19. Most banks prefer to handle things on a case-by-case basis, but possible assistance options include waived fees, deferred payments, and in rare cases, no interest accrual for a short time. Some are also offering discounts on personal loans to help those in need cover their expenses during the pandemic.
Contact your bank to see what options are available to you to help you stretch your existing dollars a little further every month. Many banks are reporting higher-than-average call volume right now, so be prepared to sit on hold for a while.
5. Explore other ways to earn income
You may be able to get another part-time or full-time job to help you through these tough times. Grocery stores are hiring thousands of new employees to keep up with increasing demand, and so are popular online retailers.
Cleaning services and takeout and grocery delivery services are also seeing unusually high demand. The federal government is also seeking out hundreds of thousands of Americans to assist with the 2020 census, and these jobs all include paid training, so this is another option worth considering. Note that you may have to stop claiming unemployment benefits if you find new employment during the pandemic.
If you're wary of being exposed to COVID-19 on the job, see if you can find a temporary job or side hustle that will enable you to work from home. You might try selling items online, helping a friend build a website, or babysitting a neighbor's children during business hours. These things might not provide the level of pay you're accustomed to, but every little bit helps right now. The more money you can get coming in, the less you have to withdraw from your savings.
We're living through an uncertain and scary chapter of history, and that can make job loss, even if it's temporary, more stressful. But as in so many crises, we're also starting to see some of the best in people and businesses as they come together in new ways to help each other out.
Try the above tips, and just take it day by day. You're not alone and things will get better eventually.