Disaster prep in the Coronavirus era – Part 1, Money

  • Published on April 3rd, 2020

A few months back, I wrote two guides to disaster preparedness. They were meant as general references, assuming you may someday face a natural disaster or acute emergency. To many readers, they probably seemed abstract since there was no imminent danger at the time. But here we are, in the midst of a global emergency. In general, you want to prepare before an emergency situation arises, but that ship has already sailed. Just the same, there is still a lot the can still be done.

Coronavirus Disaster Prep part 1: money


Cleantechnica

We will be publishing the full Coronavirus Survival Guide over the next few days covering a comprehensive range of topics including:

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Basic Supplies

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Time Management

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Money

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Final Thoughts

The original guides were not COVID-19 proof, but are still packed with relevant content:

A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part One

A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part Two


DisclaimerThis series is only a guide. Nothing posted here is gospel, it is only a basis for further research. Take everything posted with a grain of salt. Feel free to personalize any advice to your own unique circumstances and neither the author nor CleanTechnica take any responsibility for any omissions, oversights, or errors.


Money

If you don’t have a budget, this is a great time to put one together. Many people live paycheck to paycheck: they get paid and are then able to pay their bills, buy groceries, and other necessities. Having downtime where jobs, income, and spending are all affected is a good time to calculate your actual monthly take home income, track down all of your expenses.

An Emergency Fund

From there, it is a simple exercise to create a budget that includes saving for the future, paying off your debts, building a 3-6 month cash cushion in case of job loss, saving for retirement, deciding on retirement investing strategies, saving for the kids college education, and so forth. This is going to be different than right now if your income has been affected by coronavirus, which is covered below. This budget planning is for when things return to normal.

Most financial experts recommend having 3-6 months of expenses saved up in cash in a liquid savings plan in case of job loss. No one foresaw that a virus would put hundreds of millions of people out of work almost overnight, but if you have a financial emergency fund setup, it’s very helpful now. Obviously, the virus is already here, so if you don’t already have cash in the bank, you may already be on the edge financially speaking, but it is worth heeding this advice when planning for the future after things return to normal.

When In Doubt, Save

That said, if you’re working from home and/or your pay is unaffected, it is more likely that you’re in a decent financial position still. With most people cutting back on going out, you might even be saving some extra money. If so, it is a great opportunity to use those savings to augment your bank account in these uncertain times. If you’re using the time to conduct online retail therapy, it may be a good idea to cut back on that.

Create A Budget

On the other hand, many people are facing job slowdowns or losses. In many countries, governments are working to help those who are affected by Coronavirus income loss, but this assumes you have rational leaders. If you don’t, then you may have a huge additional problem.

The first step to creating a budget is to know what your income and expenses are. If you don’t have a list already, this is the time to create it. This can be painful but as the old saying goes, no pain no gain. Make sure you include debt payments. Then make a list of all your debts and the amounts. In future plan to get your debts paid off, a debt counselor or fee based financial planner is a wise investment for all of us.

If your income has been affected by the coronavirus, you’re going to want two budgets. The first one for life during the pandemic and the second for after life has returned to normal. The pandemic budget should have reduced spending. Once you have your list of expenses, sort your list into needs, wants, deferrable, and possibly deferrable:

  • Needs are things like rent, utility bills, food, medical expenses, insurance, debt repayments, etc.
  • Wants are things like cable, magazines, subscriptions, charitable donations, gym memberships, etc.
  • Deferrable expenses are things like eating out, entertainment, clothing (for the short term), etc
  • Possibly deferrable expenses are anything from the other categories you may be able to eliminate or renegotiate. We will come back to this later.

You should aim to cut spending on wants and deferrable expenses until the crisis has passed. Think hard about this, as having extra cash on hand in a crisis is a good idea, just in case things get worse. Make sure expenses are actually deferrable before cancelling or delaying spending. Sometimes, if you give up a contract or locked in price, you can’t get it at the same price again. This is often the case with many subscription or phone plans. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Once you have your core expenses and have cut what you can, you will now know how much money you need to spend per month to survive. Compare this to your expected income and any government stimulus you may have. It’s also important to take into account whether any stimulus income is one time or recurring. If you have money put aside that is easily accessible, consider how long this can carry you, aiming to not cash in any investments that are down right now. If you are forced to cash in investments during the current market downturn, cash in as little and as slowly as possible. Try to avoid this, as it locks in those losses forever. If you have no choice, then it’s a painful decision to make.

Trim the Fat

For all your remaining expenses, try to find out if there are relief options available. In many countries, governments and businesses are offering extensions, payment holidays, reduced payments, payment relief, and other accommodations to help people get through this crisis. Take every line on your expenses list that you have not cut in all categories and see if there are new options that have come up. Repeat this perhaps every week until things are back to normal, as new initiatives are continually being announced.

If there are income options like unemployment, pensions, government programs/stimulus, or others, make sure you take advantage of them. Just don’t lock anything in that can’t be changed later like taking a pension early that would otherwise continue to grow if it was deferred. Things such as food are variable costs and often amenable to cheaper substitutions, though you don’t want to subsist on cheap junk food if you don’t have to. Your long term health is hard to measure as a future value, but is not to be ignored or sacrificed.

Finally, if you can’t find ways to make all your payments, you may have to start making sacrifices. In a perfect world, this is not something we would hope for, but in reality, many will have to make sacrifices during these difficult times. Some of your necessities may have to go, such as phone, internet, cable, or in extreme cases, heat and electricity. You may have to give up deals you have or contracts, but if they have termination expenses, this can make them prohibitively expensive to give up since you still have to have the money to pay up. We all hope this level of extreme cutting is not necessary, but if it is, it’s a bullet you need to bite. If it does come to the point of extreme cost cutting, contact essential service providers to see if they can grandfather you in, so if you resume service at a later date, you can keep the price you’re paying now.

Financial Efficiency

That said, you can stretch some things to lower bills quite a bit. Lowering the use of heat/AC will save energy with lots of warm or cold weather clothing for the cold. Just be sure to stay well above freezing (15ºC (60ºF) minimum), or pipes may burst. You can drive less or adopt some hypermiling practices (within reason and safety) to save fuel. You might be able to reduce insurance expenses by only covering one car and setting the insurance on other vehicles to non-driving with only theft/fire coverage. You might be able to downgrade your phone plan or defer payments.

There is often wiggle room between cancelling and reducing usage of variable costs, so don’t fall into the trap of all or nothing. Often times, we spend for convenience which we don’t want to give up, but we must consider whether or not the money coming in can reasonably support discretional items.

Electricity often has loads of energy efficiency opportunities for many people, without losing service. Video games and set top boxes (and some screens) can suck down the power like you won’t believe. Many utilities also have grace periods or programs you might be able to take advantage of during difficult times. Try very hard to avoid doing anything that could negatively affect your credit rating. That includes taking out loans. They are an easy answer but can cripple you later.

Moving Forward

Once this crisis has passed, think carefully about resuming expenses. There are some you can probably do without, some that are luxuries that you really do want and many are in between. Then, work on paying off your non mortgage debts and establishing that 3-6 month emergency fund for the future. Think about retirement and developing a plan to save for it. Don’t just think about these things, get them done right away so you get in the pattern of being prepared, and having your financial house in order.

This crisis may have revealed great or not so great qualities in government leaders. In the future, try to vote for competent leaders instead of voting for slogans, easy answers, or harming others for pleasure. When your life is on the line, no virus or natural disaster cares about alternative facts. It only answers to a competent response and adequate spending in economic downturns and afterwards is what gets the economy back on track.

Supporting candidates who have strong climate change action plans is also a great idea, as renewable energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels. With so much progress in renewable technologies in recent years, we now get to have our cake and save the planet too.


We will be publishing the full Coronavirus Survival Guide over the next few days covering a comprehensive range of topics including:

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Basic Supplies

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Time Management

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Money

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Final Thoughts

 

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(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

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