I should have seen this coming, but even I was surprised to learn my department and many others would be cutting hours. Que the list of money saving moves I immediately need to double check.
In preparing for an influx of critically ill patients, hospitals have hit the brakes on elective surgeries, encouraged people to avoid ERs, and launched massive telehealth campaigns. If you don’t happen to live in New York or Michigan, all this seems to mean that our halls are a bit echoey at the moment.
If your job has made you feel secure and “recession-proof” in the past, the current events may be a bit unsettling for your bank account. Especially true if your defacto emergency fund has often been picking up an extra 12-hour shift.
But what do you do when the hours disappear, and your usual way of coping with unexpected expenses no longer exists?
There are money saving moves you can make right now that will define how you weather this pandemic financially. Be kind to yourself, it often takes a disaster like this to make you realize you can no longer ignore the basics of money management. Many of my friends (including me) only became interested in personal finance during the Great Recession, out of necessity. Right now is your chance and opportunity to change your financial future.
Assess the State of Your Emergency Fund
Emergency funds, also known as rainy day funds, are an incredibly boring and comforting pile of money you stash away for disasters. The general idea is to have enough money squirreled away to cover three to six months of bare necessities. This is only a guideline, you may feel more comfortable with more or less in your account. And definitely, when you are just starting to save, celebrate every dollar you put in this account.
If you already have an emergency fund take a look at how much is there. In the worst-case scenario, how long will this last? You may feel totally comfortable with where you are sitting, or you may want to quickly shovel extra funds in its direction. More money during a disaster gives you more choices.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, there is still time to start. Take action, don’t beat yourself up for what you should or could have done months ago. Celebrate your decision to change how you manage your money!
How do you start an emergency fund?
Create or use a separate bank account that you will make off-limits except in an emergency.
Make it relatable and name it something that encourages you to not only cultivate savings but also leave it alone unless necessary.
I’ve seen everything from
- FU money
- Emergency fund
- Rainy day fund
- Break glass in case of emergency
- Disaster fund
Get as creative, dull, or cheeky as you like. Seriously though, naming this bank account (which most online services allow you to do) makes it personal.
To get started, transfer any available money, even if it’s only $5 to this account immediately. Now you have a fund, although a baby one. Follow the steps in the rest of this article for other places you can cut costs and funnel more cheddar to this cozy account.
Set a savings goal
It may take a long time to get to your goal number, but it’s essential to decide how much money you would ideally have in your emergency fund. This is where the 3-6 month guideline is often adjusted. If you’re single and you know that if all else fails you can move back home with mom and dad (and you’re willing to do that) you may be thrilled with a month or two of money saved. If you’re married, dual-income, and have kids, you might want more than six months of a cushion.
Personally, I started with a much smaller fund when I was single and working as a new grad nurse. As time moved on, I was able to grow my emergency fund through consistent savings. I came to realize that I feel more secure with a larger cash cushion. It not only has helped me improve my money and work mindset, but I know I won’t have to consider renting out a room in my house or selling possessions to make ends meet for quite a while.
The last thing you want to worry about when shit hits the fan is if you have enough money.
Review your Budget
Confession: I boycotted the term budget for a long time in favor of the lighter sounding “spending plan.” These are the same thing, call it whatever motivates you to stay the course.
Budgets are incredible, there is even a blog called Budgets Are Sexy, seriously. Creating a budget has helped me refine my values, goals, and career trajectory. I’m not kidding, merely paying attention to my money and telling it what to do has allowed me to create my ideal lifestyle. It all started from a place of scarcity and fear. In the beginning, I didn’t think I had enough money or cash flow to pay my bills and enjoy life.
When done correctly, a budget allows you to spend on the things you enjoy, your responsibilities, and ruthlessly cut out the rest. In times of disaster, we do need to be a bit more ruthless. This is short term, life and your spending will eventually return to some form of normal.
When creating a budget, you should make a list of all your expenses. It can help to look over credit card and bank statements to get an accurate representation of spending habits. Budgets often fail because we list ideal numbers, this only works if you set realistic expectations.
Tally up your spending and look for places you can cut back and funnel money towards your emergency fund. Right now, it’s easier to eliminate entertainment, gas, clothing, and dining out.
Once you make a plan, it’s essential to track and follow it. I like to use programs like YNAB or even pen and paper to track expenses. In the beginning, I would check in with my plan every morning, now that I’ve been doing it for years I look at things about once a week.
Where does my retirement fit in?
Should you keep investing if you have no emergency fund during a disaster?
I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the benefits of working for a healthcare system are pretty awesome. I am appreciative of my insurance and retirement match. But if I didn’t have any money saved for an emergency, I would first look at cutting my spending and then towards reducing my current investing plan.
This is not like regular times right now. The “free money” you receive in your match will serve you in the future. Still, if you are facing a more pressing financial hardship, it may not be right for you currently.
If you contribute more than is required to receive a full match from your institution, you may wish to consider temporarily reducing to the minimum match amount. I caution you heavily to only do this if you fully commit to putting the extra funds in your emergency account.
What if you’ve cut all the expenses you can, reduced to the base match, and still can’t pay all your essential bills? It may be time to temporarily put a hold on retirement investing. I don’t say this lightly. When things improve in the world, you can always jump back in. Right now it’s essential to take care of you and your family.
Evaluate or Create Your Estate plan
We’ve all joked about tattooing DNR on our chests. Every intake form we complete for patients includes questions about advance directives and POLSTs. Still, we often fail to plan for ourselves and our family. Why? We’ll get to it someday.
It’s been heartbreaking to follow the stories of healthcare workers who have lost colleagues and wonder every day if they’re next. Some workers are quarantining from their family, living in garages, RVs, hotel rooms, or tents. No one would be doing this if they didn’t fear death. No one has enough PPE, and we simply don’t know enough about this virus to be confident of survival.
Having an estate plan is much like having an emergency fund, it’s there for the worst-case scenario. Hopefully, you won’t need it for a very long time, but you’ll be comforted in knowing you created a plan.
Resources for planning
The Conversation Project was started to provide resources for discussing end of life wishes with those important to you. According to a recent survey, 92% of Americans say it’s crucial to have these conversations, but only 32% do. They’ve created a discussion guide specific to COVID-19 to help guide broaching this with your family.
You can use free services like Tomorrow.me to help you create a will online. If you have any complicating factors, like kids or property, I urge you to consult with an estate attorney.
Check Your Life insurance and Disability Benefits
Work benefits often encompass a limited life insurance and disability policy, but they aren’t usually enough for the long term. It seems just good enough to offer a false sense of security. If your family relies on your income in the event of disability or death, a work plan simply won’t cut it. Look into long term disability and term life insurance to supplement your financial needs.
This list of money saving moves can feel a little overwhelming, and if that’s the case, start with the first suggestion (your emergency fund) and work your way down the list. Financial security is a practice — like medicine — and you work towards mastery each day.
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