The COVID-19 outbreak has affected many people's finances for the worse. Millions of workers out of a job, and many of those who are still employed have seen their hours reduced.

Self-employed workers are feeling the pain, too. Many have seen business decline as consumers change their lifestyles and attempt to conserve funds, while others have seen a drastic drop in productivity from having to work and mind their children simultaneously.

Throw in the fact that the stock market has been battered on and off by the ongoing crisis, and it certainly makes the case for scaling back on 401(k) or IRA contributions. After all, with the economy being so shaky, is now really the ideal time to be maxing out a 401(k) or IRA, or getting as close as possible?

Clock, three piles of coins increasing in size from left to right, and a glass jar of coins labeled retirement with a coin being dropped in

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The reality is that many people right now cannot afford to be funding a 401(k) or IRA at all. If you don't have a solid emergency fund, and you need every penny you have right now to cover near-term essentials, then you should absolutely focus on those immediate needs and put off saving for the future. But if your income has largely held steady, or hasn't taken too harsh a hit, then ramping up your 401(k) or IRA contributions is a move that could really pay off.

Why fund your retirement plan now?

The reason it pays to ramp up retirement plan contributions right now is simple: It's a great time to invest.

Market volatility is a scary thing for someone planning to retire in a year, or for someone who plans to tap his or her investment account in the near term. But if you're in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s and aren't planning to leave the workforce for another decade or longer, that leaves plenty of time for the stock market to calm down and recoup any losses that could ensue if it dips further in the coming weeks or months. But right now, funding a 401(k) or IRA gives you an opportunity to load up on quality investments on the relative cheap, which means you stand to reap significant gains over time.

Even if you're closer to retirement, you can fund your 401(k) or IRA and avoid putting that money into risky investments. Rather than use those contributions to buy stocks, buy bonds, or even keep that money in cash in your retirement plan. But that way, you at least get to reap the tax benefits associated with 401(k)s or IRAs -- tax benefits that don't exist when you pump more money into a regular savings account.

As a reminder, traditional 401(k) and IRA contributions go in on a pre-tax basis, so the sum you put in is money the IRS can't tax you on. Your traditional 401(k) or IRA investments then get to grow on a tax-deferred basis, with taxes only coming into play once you take withdrawals. With a Roth 401(k) or IRA, you don't get an immediate tax break on your contributions, but once that money is in your account, it get to grow tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as well.

Many people truly can't afford to put money into a 401(k) or IRA right now. But if you have the ability to contribute more, you'll be thankful for having done so down the line.