We’d like to blame “time,” but the real culprit is “us.”
Before shelter-at-home restrictions, seemingly everyone had a list of things they would get done if “only they had more time at home:” painting, cleaning, going through old photos, emptying storage areas, going through closets, filing the old financial paperwork, anything on the long list of household functions that typically stay toward the back of the mind while normal daily life is at the front.
Now weeks into sheltering at home, most of those tasks have not been started, much less completed, despite all of us having more time at home than ever.
If we come out of sheltering with the chores undone, we will have missed an opportunity for personal and lifestyle improvements. If we can’t change our habits and get those tasks done now, they certainly won’t be priorities in the future.
That is also how consumers, savers and investors should be looking at the ways they can change and improve financial habits, enhancing their monetary position whenever the economy returns to normal or finds its “new normal.”
Shelter-at-home time has been filled with basic financial lessons, the kind that can be easily overlooked and forgotten when daily life returns. We have been forced to alter our norms; we should be looking for changes worth making permanent.
None of the lessons are new; it’s just that this dose of savvy financial advice has been thrust on anyone with spending, savings, investing and other habits changed by circumstance.
The idea is to change them permanently, by choice, if they work well for you now.
Here are those financial changes that you might want to make permanent and part of whatever your normal looks like when the sheltering phase ends.
Necessity is the mother of spending choices.
If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. That applies to toilet paper and helping everyone get through those supply challenges, but also to just about everything.
When finances get tight, manage your money based on real needs, the kinds of things you can’t function without. Don’t be afraid to lower your standards; plenty of brand-conscious shoppers have found that they can’t buy their favorite toilet paper or they had to settle for the house brand of pasta or hand sanitizer.
If you haven’t been bothered by the change, consider if it’s a way to economize.
You may like “top of the line,” but what you need is the product. You have to do what’s necessary; anything beyond that can be considered a luxury, and allowed in controlled amounts.
Waste not, want not.
It’s a proverb for a reason, and has been true forever, but people are living it like never before as they try to minimize trips to the market and their needs for delivery.
By this adage, the wise use of your resources will help stave off poverty. While people are seeing that curtailed spending and eating all leftovers rather than letting any of them get moldy helps to reduce outflows, the truth is that this isn’t enough to get by on for long when your paycheck has stopped.
But that’s why this helpful mindset winds up being forgotten when times are good.
It may feel like you are only bleeding a few bucks here or there, but if you look at how your overall spending most likely has been curtailed forcibly now, it should have you looking for wasteful spending and unnecessary cash outlays that you can keep off the ledger permanently.
Save up for a rainy day.
We have known for years that Americans have not had enough emergency savings, and while some studies suggest that people are weathering the storm better than expected, other studies show that reserves are dwindling and that real trouble could lie ahead for a lot of families if shelter-in-place lasts for another month or more.
No matter how much reserves are depleted now, savers and consumers need to rebuild their emergency cash stash as soon as possible. While COVID-19 is once-in-a-lifetime – or so we all hope – trouble is universal and should always be planned for and expected.
To borrow from Howard Ruff, the late investment-newsletter editor: “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
Enough is enough.
The lockdown has shown that a lot of families have “shopping habits” that are more about getting out of the house, doing something new or just feeling in control than they are about real needs.
If you have closets filled with clothing that you don’t wear (but that fits), shelves filled with products that you haven’t used, and kids rooms filled with games, toys and electronics that haven’t been revisited even as the children were going stir crazy, you have too much stuff and no need for more.
Don’t spend money like you are entitled to whatever you want, at least not until your finances are in order and your circumstances dictate that it’s true.
Many lives have been reduced to taking care of family, by whatever means are allowed and still viable, but the many tragedies of the coronavirus will play out for months and years in families whose lost loved ones didn’t think they needed estate planning yet.
Having the basic financial documents – a will, health-care directive and more – is a necessity; it will help your family move on from loss, without getting bogged down in confusion, law and emotion.
Estate planning, for most people, is just like those items that we promised to get to “if we just had time.” Since you don’t know when your time is up – but you are fighting to extend your time by avoiding the virus now – be sure not to leave your family with a worst-case scenario; dealing with death is hard enough without bad planning to make it harder.
Together, we can get through this safely; individually, we can use improve our futures by applying the lessons this situation has been forcing on us.