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How to Deal With Coronavirus-related Money Stress

Simple tips that will help you cope with any unpleasant financial situation.

Morsa Images/Getty Images
Morsa Images/Getty Images

Welcome to Let’s Talk Money, where you’ll hear about the small changes you can make to build sustainable money habits, reduce your stress, and set yourself up for financial and personal well-being. We never seem to hear about the critical connection between our financial well-being and our whole human well-being. But money is a top cause of significant stress for Americans, according to the American Psychological Association, and unchecked stress levels have been linked to issues from heart disease to diabetes to depression. The good news is that there’s a powerful, impactful approach to managing our finances and our health, based on the latest behavioral science showing that starting small — with too-small-to-fail Microsteps — is the most effective way to make habits stick. It’s time to make this a key part of our conversation about our relationship with money. Read on for advice on how to take control of your financial and overall health, one small step at a time.

Business closings, airline shutdowns, layoffs, quarantines — every day, even every hour, it seems like there’s some new anxiety-provoking development stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about themselves, their families, and (apparently) their toilet paper supply. Also, their money. 

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, over 75% of individuals are feeling significantly more nervous about their personal finances and financial future, according to a Thrive Global original survey of 5,000 Americans to identify pain points related to the coronavirus crisis and solutions to help. Nearly 85% are concerned about potential financial impacts/consequences. And another 75% report that their financial well-being has already been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you’re anxious because you’re short on emergency cash or you’re concerned about the viability of your job during this public health crisis, there are several ways to improve your financial situation and alleviate stress. What’s more, the path toward financial stress relief is simpler than you might think — it starts with Microsteps, which are small, science-backed actions you can start taking immediately to build habits that can significantly improve your life. 

We tapped financial experts for advice on how to cope with specific financial situations during these uncertain times — and included Microsteps to help you get started. Here’s what they had to say:

If you don’t have an emergency fund

Before the coronavirus outbreak, more than 30% of individuals reported having no emergency funds saved, according to a 2020 Thrive/Discover survey of 3,000 adults in the U.S. If you have enough money put away to live on for six months or a year, great. But if you don’t, know that it’s never too late to start saving. It could actually be easier to save now than in flush-feeling times, Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning in Austin, Texas, tells Thrive. “People aren’t eating out as much, people aren’t traveling as much,” she says. “That’s money that you can redirect toward your savings.” 

Even stashing away $10 a day can really add up. If you’ve experienced a drop (or full stop) in income, don’t worry — you still have options. To build up cash, sell things you can spare, says Cynthia Meyer, a certified financial planner and financial coach at Real Life Planning in New York City. You can sell clothes on consignment sites like Poshmark; designer duds can go to TheRealReal. Books can go to secondhand sellers such as Powell’s and Bookscouter. And reach out to your creditors if you’re in danger of missing payments — especially for rent or mortgage. A lot of financial institutions are offering help to customers impacted by the crisis. 

Just make sure to stockpile money and not stuff you don’t need, Brera advises. “Don’t be that guy who bought 17,000 things of hand sanitizers,” she says. “It’s not worth it to go into debt hoarding things right now.” 

Microstep
In the middle of an online shopping session, pause to ask yourself if you're browsing out of boredom or stress, and if so, if there's something else you could be doing to feel joy.
If the reason for your browsing is boredom, rather than a real need, go for a short walk (if you can), stretch, or text a friend instead.

If you’re currently looking for a job

You can’t control the job market, but you can be prepared to make the most of any opportunity that comes your way. With all the self- and government-imposed quarantining going on, you can expect to be doing many interviews over the phone or via video chat, Sharon Jautz, a human resources vet who now heads up H.R. for Ascential, North America, tells Thrive. 

Candidates should especially practice putting their best phone forward — brush up on small talk and pleasantries that can ease awkwardness over the phone. “Ask about the virus in a meaningful way,” Jautz says. “Say, ‘How is it working from home?’”. Job hunters should make sure they’re comfortable with video platforms such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. 

Some other pro tips: Check your background before a video interview — interviewers might not be able to look past a pile of dirty dishes or laundry. Dress like you’re going to a regular interview, Jautz says, “at least from the waist up.” 

Finally, be patient. Many recruiters are trying to find their rhythm working remotely — and are probably stressed out, too. Remember that delays aren’t a reflection on your abilities or your long-term job prospects.  

Microstep
If you’re feeling stressed or panicked about your job prospects during this uncertain time, take a few minutes to meditate.
Pausing to simply breathe allows you to be less stressed, more present, and more resilient in the face of uncertainty.

If you’re afraid of losing your job 

“The truth is, none of us are guaranteed long-term anything anymore,” Jautz says. Even in times of tranquility, business and industries can change, restructure, and fail. This current crisis is a time to focus on the things you can control, starting with your attitude at work.  

Avoid the temptation to check out or close up emotionally. “Decide to be that communicative, team-building person,” Jautz says. “Because those are the people who will succeed in bad times.” 

But while you need to be present at your current job, it’s also wise to make some just-in-case preparations. You can invest some time in strengthening your LinkedIn profile, Jautz says: “It is your footprint in the professional world on the web.” Complete your job history, fill in your responsibilities, and make sure to include results wherever possible. “If I’m a recruiter, it’s the person who says ‘I closed 100 deals successfully’ that I’m going to reach out to — rather than the one who just says ‘customer service manager.’” 

If you’re worried about the stock market 

Try a little perspective shift. You could think of the market as down — or you could think of it as on sale. Bera, like many other financial advisors, is recommending that clients actually increase their retirement savings if they can afford to. “Warren Buffett says be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful,” she points out. Clients who kept putting money into their portfolios during the last downturn saw their assets grow twice as fast as those who stopped, she says. 

“This is a really good thing for millennials and Gen Xers,” she says. “We have time for the market to recover, we have time to wait this out.” In fact, if you don’t have one, consider opening a retirement account A.S.A.P. — there are some great ones with very low minimum requirements. And once you do, only check the market occasionally; there’s no need to ride that emotional roller coaster. 

Microstep
Set a news cut-off time at the end of the day.
While being informed can help us feel more prepared amid a public health crisis, setting healthy limits to our media consumption can help us put stressful financial news into perspective.

If you’re just generally freaking out 

Knowledge can go a long way toward relieving non-specific financial stress. If you’ve been avoiding the reality of your savings account, for example, take a quick look today. A clear-eyed view of your reality will help you reduce stress and manage your spending, says Belinda Archibong, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics at Barnard College of Columbia University.

You’ll also want to avoid making any big moves, Bera advises. “If you’re investing in your 401(k), keep investing in your 401(k). Stick with your plan to pay off your credit card debt.” 

But also, think about opportunity — what can you take advantage of right now, like low interest rates? “Maybe you can refinance and cut a couple of years off your student loan,” Bera points out. If you work for a company with an employee stock plan, consider putting money into it now so you can reap potential benefits later. 

Most importantly, Archibong says, practice self-care. “Exercise, eat well to maintain both your mental and physical well-being,” she says. “Tap into your networks; organize online hangout sessions with friends and family. This is an essential part of reducing both your direct and indirect costs from the epidemic and alleviating your financial stress as well.” 

Microstep
Look up the balance of any loan you owe and write it down somewhere, whether it's a financial journal or a place on your phone.
If you anxiously avoid financial matters that intimidate you, this is one small step in the direction of taking ownership.

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