By Ann Lloyd, Student Savings Guide
People keep talking about a “new normal,” but it’s hard to find someone who can actually define what that means for all of us. Here’s why: Each of us is responsible for creating our new normal in a post-pandemic world — and that starts with our finances.
Some things have changed, but other things haven’t. Maybe you’ve lost your job or had to start working from home. You’ve probably had to re-evaluate where you spend your time, during lockdowns and otherwise. It’s safer outside, but you have to take precautions outdoors, too, which means you may have needed to find different ways of making money.
Then there’s the desire to save money and be responsible with what you have. Though that hasn’t changed (or maybe it’s heightened now), you may have to explore some new strategies there, too. How you attain and maintain financial wellness depends a lot on what your new normal is — and where you want it to be.
If you’ve lost your job
If you find yourself without employment, the situation might seem overwhelming. But you have a range of things you can do.
In the short term
- Seek tax relief. The government offers several programs that may help you in the short run, from tax filing deferments to economic impact payments. Check the IRS website and/or talk to your tax advisor for more details.
- File for unemployment. In this case, you’ll want to contact your state’s unemployment department, and do so as soon as possible. The Department of Labor offers a handy online tool to help you locate your state’s office and contact information. (You can find Alabama’s information here.)
- Seek medical relief. If applicable, look into options for expanded family and medical leave, Medicaid, and nutrition aid. During the pandemic, seek out free COVID testing and vaccinations that can help you get back out there.
In the long term
- Learn a new skill. Whether you want to change careers or make yourself more marketable to a new employer while remaining in your present field, it always helps to add to your skill set. You can do so by going online or going back to school.
- Look for contract gigs. The market for independent contractors has grown, and there are some drawbacks to this — lack of health benefits, and fluctuating hours come to mind. But there are also benefits, such as the ability to set your own hours and, in some cases, work from home. Options ranging from grant writing to delivery jobs are available.
If you’re in debt
The first thing you want to do if you’re in debt is develop a plan to pay it off. At the same time, it’s a good idea to create a budget so you don’t wind up right back in the same place after all the hard work it takes to dig yourself out of that hole.
A number of budget apps can help, some of which can be tailored to your personal situation, such as one for couples or for those who tend to overspend, or those looking to build retirement investments.
Another thing you’ll want to do is build your credit. If you’re trying to recover after falling behind on payments and losing ground with lenders, try setting up a credit card that’s secured by a deposit that serves as your credit limit. You can use however much is in your account. This keeps you from spending beyond your means, and you’ll build your credit at the same time.
If you’re worried about the future
The future is more uncertain than ever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make proactive plans. Take steps to ease your stress by safeguarding yourself against future problems before they occur.
- Shore up your retirement. If you’re traditionally employed, look into a 401(k) account, and have as much as possible taken out each paycheck — especially if there’s an employer match. If that’s not an option, look into other alternatives, such as IRAs, annuities, etc. Talk to a financial advisor and determine what’s right for you.
- Re-examine your insurance. Look at your plans and see if you can save by bundling them, but also make sure they don’t overlap: You don’t want to pay twice for the same kind of coverage. Compare plans against your budget and situation to be sure you’ve got the proper deductible and level of coverage.
- Take care of what you’ve got. Don’t ignore that leaky roof or plumbing problem; it might get worse (and more expensive) if you do. Keep up with regular maintenance on your car, including oil changes, tune-ups, and tire rotation. Learn the signs of tire wear and recognize when you need to replace your tires so you can avoid a blowout on the road.
- Take care of who you are. Get a checkup to ensure that you’re in good health, and address any conditions you need to address. Adjust your diet if you need to, minimizing carbs and eating plenty of veggies (just like mom said). Get outside for a walk, bike ride, or other physical activity: sunshine’s a great healer, too. And make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night.
Whatever your situation, you can take steps to improve your financial wellness as times change and new challenges arise. Some of them are common sense; others will be more specific to your own situation and may require creative approaches. Rest assured, you’re up to the task of creating your new normal. You just need to go out there and make it happen.
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