By now, it is clear that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a major health threat all around the globe, including the United States, and the federal, state, and city governments are quickly reacting, as are many businesses and employers. But it’s not just them; ordinary citizens, including you, can and should take various steps to stay healthy, safe, and happy.
This includes not just washing your hands and staying home if you are sick but also tracking your money. Even if no one in your area has tested positive for COVID-19, this pandemic may affect your financial life in substantial ways. Cosmetic surgery may seem like a bad use of money right now (the average price of otoplasty is $3,154 according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons), but you don’t have to freeze all of your spending. Instead, make a budget first, and go from there.
Draft A Clear Budget
Strictly speaking, all adult Americans should be keeping budgets and tracking their money, and perform self-audits. Many don’t, but now, with the COVID-19 virus spreading and society changing in its wake, this is an excellent time to get ahead of the curve. You may end up spending more money in some ways and much less in others, and it’s vital that you know what you can and cannot afford right now. So, make spreadsheets and start crunching numbers.
Start with your earnings per month and year, such as your salary or wages, and any passive income you may have, such as rental properties that you own or investments. Now, you must add up all necessary spending such as mortgage/rent, auto loan payment, various utility bills, medical bills, and the like, and see what that total is. Now, make a separate total for non-essential spending, such as eating out, hobbies, or cable and video streaming subscriptions and any miscellaneous spending you do. A lot of spending is a habit and therefore practically invisible, and many people are spending more than they realize. But once you have all the numbers on paper, you may be surprised by what you see, and it may be obvious how you can cut back. This may range from holding off on buying that new house all the way to changing your cable subscription to avoiding eating at restaurants for a while.
An up-front rule is to avoid major spending of any kind during this time, such as financing a new car or house or selling your current property to move into a new one. This is tricky enough without COVID-19 on the scene; some houses struggle to sell, and 50% of all houses listed in the DC Metro market didn’t sell the first time they were listed anyway. Bear in mind that many jobs are asking their employees to stay home, and many people may lose their income (others might get paid time off). If this ends up being you, then you certainly are in no position to buy a new car or house, or even an ATV or a boat. And bear in mind that even if you are going in for work right now, that might change in the coming weeks. In short, be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and adjust your spending accordingly.
It may be disappointing to postpone or cancel your plans to buy your dream vacation home or a nice new car or boat, but right now, thinking on the moderate to short term is better, and keeping a roof over your head and avoiding debt is far more important than any luxurious big purchases. When the situation becomes better, you will get your chance to invest again.
What about expenses for your health, such as going to the dentist? Is it worth the risk? American dental offices are not necessarily all closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of them may be adjusting their hours so that fewer patients visit per day, to help limit everyone’s exposure to each other. Your scheduled dental appointments may have to be rescheduled, so call your dentist or email them (if you haven’t already been contacted) and find a good time for a visit. But if you are ill or feel ill, be careful about visiting, and do not arrive early and wait in the lobby while sneezing or coughing or running a fever. Doing so will greatly increase exposure, and that is an unnecessary risk. You’ll want to spend the bare minimum amount of time in the dentist’s office.
Still, visiting the dentist is a good call even during the COVID-19 case, since dental health is a vital investment. If you never go to the dentist, serious issues such as infections or cavities or tooth loss may become much worse, and end up even more expensive and troublesome to deal with later on. And ongoing dental problems can affect your health in other ways, too. In short, don’t let the pandemic ruin your dental health; when you’re in decent health, visit the dentist like normal, and let it pay off.
Other Spending Ideas
It is clear that for the most part, big-spending or investment such as a new boat or car or condo is a poor idea during the COVID-19 case. But what about everyday spending, from groceries to hobbies? Your bills and insurance are probably set in stone (average monthly auto insurance for Americans is $92, for example), but your leisurely spending is more malleable. In short, this is the area where you have the most control, and you should be careful. All essential spending comes first, and your budget will tell you how much will be leftover for savings and leisure.
Some Americans may see their leisurely or non-essential spending changed very little; others will see it changed quite a bit, probably for the worse. But that is nothing to complain about; keeping abreast of bills and rent/mortgage is most important. But suppose you have a very little leftover for hobbies and everyday fun? The good news is that contrary to what our consumerist society tells us, you do not have to spend a lot of money to be entertained or happy in everyday life. Many interesting and enriching hobbies are low-cost or even free, and now is the time to explore them, if they are not already part of your life.
Don’t be afraid to go outside for some jogging, walking, running, or hiking. Outside, the rule is to practice social distancing and maintain six feet between you and other persons, and in a large park or nature trail, that should prove easy, as opposed to going into a crowded club or restaurant. Besides, jogging/running, hiking, and taking walks costs nothing, unless you count gas money for going to a park or trail that’s not in walking distance. All you need is time and the right shoes. Meanwhile, why not try out drawing or sketching, or watercolors? These hobbies can keep you busy for a long time and be quite rewarding, and it doesn’t cost much; just the expenses for paper, pencils, markers, etc. The same is true for writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction on paper or on a computer, or even a typewriter if you own one. This is also a fine time for card games and board games with the family, not to mention movie night with DVDs or video streaming.
This can also be an educational time. Re-read the books in your home and look up informative articles and videos online, and check out documentaries on just about any topic from history to science to technology, and enjoy the brain food. This passes the time and keeps you engaged, especially if you are ill and shouldn’t go outside for a few days. Local libraries might be closed, but you can find cheap used books online and have them shipped to you, and for a low cost (and no electronic screens), books can occupy you for hours.
There is nothing fun or pleasant about a virulent outbreak such as the COVID-19 case, but then again, you are not helpless in the face of this situation. Even if your job is affected and you can’t buy a new house or even go to the library, you have options, and it’s important to focus on what you can do, not what you cannot. Make a tight budget to keep your money safe, spend as much as you safely can (and want to) on enriching hobbies, and of course, take all necessary measures to keep yourself and your community safe and clean. Do all that, and you may weather the pandemic just fine.