How are you holding up?
I know that things feel really scary and confusing right now. For many of us, including myself, self-quarantining and social distancing is something that is very new. And most likely, you’ve also never seen the government and other institutions completely shut offices and events down and tell people to stay home. Things got pretty real for me when my husband came home on Wednesday and said that his office was closed indefinitely. And then last night, we were at Whole Foods and all of the vegetables, meat, and pasta were completely wiped out. Seeing the panic in front of us like that was very sobering.
But hopefully, this will pass soon, especially as people are following instructions and staying home and distancing themselves from others. In the meantime, I want to give some guidance in relation to your money. People’s finances are going to be impacted as this situation continues, especially as we have to stay home and socialize less. But there are things you can do now to both help yourself and help others.
1. Don’t Touch Your Investments
I’m sure you’ve heard all of the panic around the stock market over the last couple of weeks. And if you’ve logged into your retirement account or other investments, you’ve probably seen that they’ve taken a hit. And that’s scary! Seeing your numbers drop can be overwhelming and make you want to take immediate action. However, the most important thing for you to do in this instance is NOTHING. Do not touch your investments. Don’t even think about withdrawing your money. And don’t throw more money at it to buy things on “sale.” The best thing to do right now is to sit and wait and give the market time to rebound.
For most of us, our investments are set aside for long-term goals. This is especially true when it comes to retirement savings. If you’re in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you have decades before you will need to withdraw that money for your retirement. That means that you have decades for your balances to go up and down in reaction to the stock market. So you should ride this out and leave your money alone. It will recoup as things stabilize.
2. Keep Your Emergency Fund Full
If you are a small business owner, a gig employee, a contractor, or a service-industry worker, this scenario is exactly what your emergency fund is for. Places are being closed, people are staying inside, and spending is going down. I’ve heard many friends say that they are having work canceled or put on hold due to coronavirus. This means that a lot of people are going to lose a lot of money, which can make it difficult or impossible to pay your bills. If you can, start putting any extra cash into your emergency fund.
3. Spend Less On Non-Essentials
I don’t know about you, but when I know I’m going to be stuck at home, I want to splurge on the things that make me most comfortable. The first thing I did on Thursday evening was bake cookies. And it’s a good idea to make sure that you have things around that will entertain you and make you feel good. However, it’s also a good idea to keep your spending down right now, especially if you don’t have much of an emergency fund. We don’t really know how long it will be before it’s safe to resume our normal lives, so making sure we have as much money socked away as possible is a good strategy. So, try to keep your non-essential spending to a minimum and prioritize the essentials only.
4. Take Stock Of What You Already Own
Last night, when my husband and I were at the depleted grocery store, we were racking our brains for what kinds of meals we could make with no vegetables and no meat. Luckily, we have a lot of frozen food in our freezer that we never seem to eat, as we defer to fresh foods most of the time. So we decided to buy what we needed that was available and then go through our freezer to see what we already have and let that inform our meals.
Before you go to the grocery store or order online, you should take stock of what you already own. It’s so easy to forget about what is shoved in the back of the cabinet or freezer. You might be surprised about what you already have. This can save you money, prevent you from leaving the house, and still provide you with the nourishment that you need. Plus, you’ll be able to finally use up the staples you stocked up on but never used.
5. Don’t Stock Up On Things You Don’t Need
I’ve seen lots of social media posts about toilet paper and hand sanitizer being completely sold out at most stores. Even just a couple of weeks ago, face masks were difficult or impossible to find. And yes, it’s important to have things like toilet paper when we are going to be quarantined. But try not to go overboard and hoard things that you don’t actually need. Not only will this make you overspend, but you also might be taking items from the people who actually need them. For example, medical professionals and people who are already sick do need to wear face masks at work and in public. If healthy people are buying them up, the people who need them won’t be able to get them. So, be thoughtful about what you are stocking up on at home.
6. Donate To A Local Food Pantry Or Soup Kitchen
A lot of kids won’t be getting their school meals for a while. And for many children, this is the only guaranteed meal of the day. Closing schools can add even more uncertainty to these kids’ lives. That’s why I was so happy to see that my county will be providing “grab and go” lunches everyday while schools are closed. Plus, there are lots of restaurants, like Good Stuff Eatery in DC, that are letting kids eat for free during this time.
However, it’s not just children who might be hungry right now. A lot of gig workers and service industry folks will be losing their income as companies close down and people stay home. They all still need to eat. So I recommend that you donate money to a local food pantry or soup kitchen in your area. And yes, I said money and not your unwanted canned food. There’s going to be much higher demand during this time, so donating money may be much more effective than donating food. Plus, you might want to hold onto your pantry essentials at the moment.
An organizations that you can always donate to? Meals On Wheels. And as always, you should only give what you can afford. You have to put your own oxygen mask on first, so make sure that all of your financial needs are met before you donate elsewhere.
You can find your local food bank at feedingamerica.org You can find your local food pantry at foodpantries.org.
7. Support Your Local Small Businesses
As I said above, local businesses are already hurting due to closings and people staying home. Places might end up laying people off or even closing for good. But even though we should be staying home, we can still help these businesses stay afloat.
Buy gift cards online. Just because you have to stay home doesn’t mean you can’t purchase things from your favorite businesses. Even if you won’t go shopping or go out to eat right now, you can still buy gift cards from the businesses online to use later. This gesture could help them stay afloat in the meantime.
Order takeout or delivery. I was torn on this one, because it seems like this could still spread the virus. However, the World Health Organization and CDC haven’t given specific guidance on this issue yet. I did find one article that gives advice on how to stay safe when ordering takeout.
Send money. If you see your favorite business raising money online, via Venmo, Paypal, GoFundMe, etc, that might be a great opportunity to chip in.
Of course, you should only be taking these steps if you can actually afford them. I said above that you should limit your non-essential spending and I mean that! But if you do have money to spare and you can afford to give a little bit extra to your local businesses, this is a great way to help out.
8. Take Advantage of ebooks From The Library
Chances are, your library is closed. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy books online to stay occupied during this scary time. I’m a huge fan of the Libby app and renting ebooks from my library. It allows me to get books for free without even leaving my house! And this approach is even more important right now. You can get the e-resources directly from your library’s website, or you can use apps like Libby to download them.
Stay safe out there, friends. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your loved ones. But don’t forget about the rest of us, too. We are all in this together.
By the way, I really want to provide you with support and calm during this difficult, unprecedented time. If you're looking for a sense of control over your money right now, let's talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm offering $50 off my one-time financial coaching sessions for anyone who books one over the next 6 weeks. As a small business owner, I'm unable to offer my services for free, but I'm able to offer a discount to make things a little bit easier. I hope to hear from you!
Maggie Germano is a feminist and financial coach for women. She helps women improve their relationship with money so they can take control of their financial future. She does this through one-on-one financial coaching, workshops, writing on her blog and Forbes column, and speaking engagements. She also founded Money Circle, which is a safe space for women to talk about money without feeling judged, and has recently become a podcast of the same name. Passionate about helping women earn more and closing the wage gap, Maggie was also trained as a salary negotiation facilitator by AAUW.
In 2018, Maggie received the Woman Empowerment Entrepreneur Award from the DC Women’s Business Center, and was a finalist for the Entrepreneurship for Good award from the Women’s Information Network. In 2019, Maggie received the Excellence in Finance award at the Perfect Entrepreneur Awards.