The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that financial disaster can strike anywhere and at any time. People with secure jobs just two months ago are now out of work indefinitely, and the full economic impact of this pandemic has yet to be felt. Hopefully, your government stimulus check and unemployment can hold you over until you're able to return to work. But if your company goes under, or you're unable to return to work for some other reason, your financial crisis might be just beginning.
You might not have any control over the pandemic, the government, or your employer, but there are some steps you can take right now -- yes, even if you're out of work -- to keep yourself financially stable until life returns to normal again.
1. Create an essentials-only budget
The COVID-19 pandemic has removed some of the temptation to spend your money on things you don't need, mostly because it's become difficult to find ways to do that. Restaurants, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues are closed, and many online retailers have delayed shipping as they prioritize essentials over extras. That's what you should be doing, too, until you're sure your own financial crisis has passed.
Note that I said until your financial crisis has passed. That will be different for everyone. States will likely end their stay-at-home orders at different times, and some companies may reopen to the public at later dates than others.
You should know what all of your essential expenses are and how much you need to budget for each of them. Avoid adding anything else into that budget until your life returns to normal. This will enable you to follow my next piece of advice.
2. Pad your emergency fund any way you can
Take any extra cash you have every week and place it straight into an emergency fund. You should have one of these at all times, but it's especially important now, when the near future remains so uncertain. If you don't need your stimulus check or your tax refund to cover your immediate expenses, you should put this money in your emergency fund as well.
Consider placing your emergency fund in a high-yield savings account. These accounts offer much higher APYs than traditional savings accounts, so you earn more interest on your savings account funds. It may only add up to a couple of dollars over a few months, but that's still better than nothing. Some of these accounts also offer sign-up bonuses if you deposit a certain amount and leave it in the account for a set number of months.
3. Negotiate with your creditors
Banks, utility companies, and other service providers are being surprisingly helpful to customers who are experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. Many are allowing customers to defer payments and waiving late fees for up to 90 days. These benefits won't last forever, so you should take advantage of them right now if you're concerned about your long-term security.
Before you do this, note that banks allowing deferred payments are usually still charging interest, so you'll end up paying more money overall if you take advantage of this option. Make sure you're comfortable with that before you opt into one of these programs.
4. Have a backup plan for work
Stay in contact with your current employer so you know when you'll be able to return to work or if the company will have to close permanently due to the extended lack of income. If you think this is a possibility, you should be proactive and start preparing yourself for the job search. Explore what options are out there, and update your resume so you can submit your applications quickly when you're ready.
Most states allow a person to claim unemployment benefits for at least 26 weeks, and the CARES Act extends eligibility by up to 13 weeks. Hopefully, this gives you enough time to find a new job if need be. If you haven't already applied for unemployment benefits, and you've lost your income due to COVID-19, apply now on your state's unemployment benefit website.
5. Look for ways to make money now
There are plenty of ways to make money from your own home, like being a virtual assistant or watching your neighbor's pet or children if they're still going to work. Activities like these can bring in a little extra money while you can't go to work, and they might assuage some of the boredom that comes from sitting at home day after day.
If you cannot return to work for some reason once the pandemic stay-at-home orders lift, you may still be able to rely on these extra sources of income to help you make ends meet until you're able to return to the workforce full time.
We can't know how this unprecedented chapter in our lives will end, but planning for the worst-case scenario gives us a better chance of making it through with our financial security intact. Employ the five above strategies to help you prepare for the potential difficulty of the next few months.