COVID-19 has been battering the U.S. economy since March and unfortunately, it doesn't look like our recovery will be all that quick. With much of the country still shut down and countless businesses closed to the public, it could very well be the case that a true recovery doesn't start to happen until sometime in 2021.
It's not shocking, then, to learn that 60% of Americans are worried about their finances over the next six months, according to a recent survey by Fidelity. If you feel similarly, here are a few steps you can take to change your outlook for the better.
1. Build up a solid emergency fund
It's tricky to predict what the next half-year will look like. If you're still employed, you may be worried about losing your job like so many Americans already have. If that's the case, the single most important thing you can do is build a solid emergency fund.
Under normal circumstances, three months' worth of living expenses in the bank is a good goal to aim for, but because of the financial crisis at hand, you're better off trying to accumulate six months' worth of expenses in savings. That way, if you get laid off and it takes a while to find work again, you'll have a way to pay your bills without resorting to debt.
2. Cut back on some needless expenses
The less money you spend in general, the better you might feel about your finances. And while now's not the time to deprive yourself of modest luxuries that lend themselves to better mental health (like the streaming service you use for entertainment that costs around $10 a month), it wouldn't hurt to curb your spending on budget-busters like restaurant meals.
3. Pay down some high-interest debt
The more debt you have, the more stressed you're apt to be, in general. But the idea of losing your job when you know you have debt payments hanging over your head may be enough to induce a full-fledged panic attack.
Once your emergency fund is complete, make an effort to pay off some of your unhealthy debt -- namely, your credit card balances, which tend to charge a lot of interest. Don't worry about your mortgage or auto loan as much -- those debts are the healthier type to have, and you may get some leeway with your monthly payments should your financial circumstances take a turn for the worse.
4. Don't check your investment portfolio or retirement account every day
Though the stock market has managed to recoup some of its massive losses from earlier in the year, a lot of investment and retirement plan portfolios are still down. And there's a good chance they'll stay that way for a while or even dip lower as market conditions change.
Do yourself a favor and don't check your balances obsessively. You only lock in investment losses when you sell off stocks that are down, so pledge to leave your accounts alone, and don't torture yourself by examining them frequently. This especially holds true for your retirement savings. Unless you're in your late 50s or 60s, chances are you won't be touching that money for years -- which means there's plenty of time for your IRA or 401(k) to come back up in value.
It's natural to have financial concerns at a time when the entire economy is in shambles, but if you take the above steps to improve your personal outlook, you may find that you're just a bit less stressed for it. And at a time like this, you deserve some mental relief.