Our “safe” jobs are vulnerable, work hours have been reduced, and anticipated raises and bonuses are in jeopardy. For many of us, our financial situation is as scary as ever. But how did this happen so quickly? How did we go from record consumer spending to the brink of financial ruin in less than two months? How were we so unprepared?
Make no mistake about it, a large part of society lives paycheck to paycheck out of necessity and this global pandemic has made an already challenging situation even worse. But if you are a high earner (north of 70K) and currently find yourself on a razor’s edge financially, you may want to look in the mirror and take inventory of your financial habits and behaviors – not as a form of punishment, but as a way to have more respect for money going forward.
COVID-19, while unsettling, is a perfect catalyst to do some serious soul-searching and commit to charting a new course. We all have an opportunity to change our relationship with money and to see money as a resource, not a roadblock. It’s time to make peace with money. Here are some actionable steps you can implement today.
Rules have a reputation for being constraining, and in many ways, they are. But when YOU get to set the rules, they can be empowering. Why? Because you’re defining the game, and the ultimate beneficiary of these rules is YOU. Come up with your own rules for money. Rules that bring your values to the surface. Rules that help you make decisions. Rules that help define who you are today, and rules that help define who you want to be tomorrow. I always prepare half of my weekly meals at home. I never hesitate to buy a book. I always prioritize investing in personal growth over materials goods. I never pay a cover charge. Use this time and space to define your values surrounding money. By doing so, you’ll apply a practice of mindfulness and intention to your future spending.
Embrace a New Challenge or Re-Engage with Old Hobbies
Remember how much you enjoyed playing music? Or creating art? Or writing short stories? Or playing sports? When we were kids, we spent an equal amount of time playing as we did on school work. We had hobbies and interests that provided personal growth, a community, and a release from school. But as we settle into our careers and start making some decent money, we tend to embrace a new type of social life that usually involves spending money (sometimes a lot of money!) by going out to bars, restaurants, and shopping. But now, our social lives have been disrupted and we’re forced to come up with new and creative ways to spend our free time. This means we all have an opportunity to embrace a new challenge or re-engage with an old hobby. Take an online course, write a screenplay, learn a new language, start that side-hustle you’ve been dreaming of, train for a marathon. None of these activities cost all that much – time, a little money, and commitment. And the best part, these challenges and hobbies can come with you when we get back to “normal”.
If you’re relatively new to investing and see your 401(k) balance dropping for the first time, the jolt reaction is to sell and cut your losses. But selling into stress and panic is the worst thing you can do.
There are two times when the value of the stock market matters: when you buy and when you sell. Other than that, the day-to-day fluctuations are just noise.
Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. In times like today, the best thing we can do is to succumb to the pain and uncertainty of this time and let go of the things we can’t control. Stay invested and keep your contributions consistent. You’ve already paid the price of being a stock market investor, and you deserve to participate in the future recovery. Coming out of the 2008-2009 recession the people who benefited were those who remained invested.
Feel the pain in this moment, but don’t allow yourself to suffer. Turn off the news, ignore the stock market noise, and turn your focus and attention to what you can control – appreciate the gift of spending more time with family, read a book, watch a movie. Whatever you can do to create space between your fear and actions. Your Future Self will thank you.
Make Peace and Move Forward
Now is the time to take financial responsibility, and to be more in touch with all of the wealth in your life – time, health, relationships. In my adult lifetime I’ve experienced three “once in a lifetime” events – 9/11, the financial crisis, and a global pandemic. These “once in a lifetime” economic shocks seem to happen every ten years or so. Rest assured; there will be more economic shocks in your lifetime. But by taking in the lessons of today and applying mindfulness and intention to your financial life, you will develop better spending and money habits that will allow you to meet the next crisis from a position of strength and peace.
Ryan Sterling is a Wealth Coach and Founder of Future You Wealth. He has been featured in Business Insider, HuffPost, and CNN Money and is the soon to be published author of “You’re Making Other People Rich – Save, Invest, and Spend with Intention.” Ryan has an MBA and is a CFA ® Charterholder.