The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives and finances of millions. A federal relief package aiming to provide payments to distressed consumers passed March 27 — but that money is not likely to land for a number of weeks.
While you will have to wait for whatever money you might be eligible for, now is the time to prep your finances and plan. The best use of this money depends on your individual circumstances. Here’s how to think it through.
Do this prep work, regardless of your situation: This is the time to examine your money situation and build savings, if possible. The fallout from the pandemic may continue for some time. Taking even small steps can help you feel empowered and less stressed.
First, take stock of your regular expenses, such as housing costs, car loans and credit card or other debt payments. A budgeting worksheet can help account for everything and show what’s going to needs, wants, savings and debt. Once you see the big picture, consider trimming where you can because of the current uncertainty.
If you have lost your job, don’t wait to act: Those who’ve lost jobs might feel like the floor has fallen out from under them. Money from the government will provide a much-needed boost, but it might be weeks or even months before you get it. And you likely will need to supplement and stretch it.
“The amount of these checks is not going to go very far for paying people’s regular bills,” said Carol Fabbri, principal at Fair Advisors, a Colorado-based financial planning firm. “They need to reduce their bills as much as they possibly can, then think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — you need to eat, you need shelter — and focus your spending there.”
Take advantage of all sources of help: Pick up the phone and call your creditors. Explain your situation and work out a way to either delay payments for a few months or work out new minimum payments. Given the unprecedented nature of this moment, many creditors are offering ways to make payments more manageable for consumers. For homeowners, there are mortgage assistance programs.
Make a plan for the money you get: Focus on necessities, such as housing and food, to ensure your basic needs are met.
If you have anything left over, you might be tempted to throw this money at debts. But saving should take priority right now, says Diane Pearson, a financial adviser at Pearson Financial Planning.