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4 easy things to do now to protect your finances from economic uncertainty

The majority of Americans are living one crisis away from financial disaster. This is what to do to get your finances in order.

4 easy things to do now to protect your finances from economic uncertainty
[Image: HAKINMHAN/iStock]

Preppers, or survivalists who stockpile supplies for a coming apocalypse, have long been derided as fringe dwellers but are fast becoming mainstream. Amid COVID-19 concerns and economic uncertainty, consumers are stocking up on food, water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. But how much effort is going on in parallel for our getting finances in order?

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The majority of Americans are living one crisis away from financial disaster and they aren’t only low-income Americans. More than 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to the American Payroll Association, and almost three in 10 Americans have no emergency savings at all, according to Bankrate’s Financial Security Index.

When you’re laid low with an illness or paralyzed by “impending doom” stresses, the last thing that you want to be doing is making sure your basic needs can be met. So what you do now can help ensure you’re financially secure and minimize unnecessary and costly surprises like fees for late payments, or getting hit with increased interest rates, or worse, going deeper into debt.

Here are four steps to prep your finances like a pro survivalist.

Step one: consolidate your finances

If you cannot currently see your full financial position in one place, take the time to aggregate your accounts to see where you stand with savings, expenses, debt, and investments. See if your bank or credit union offers tools to enable this, or use an app like YNAB (You Need A Budget).

With interest rates being slashed, it’s worth seeing how you can save some money on interest payments. If you have multiple credit cards, look for offers to consolidate them into a single monthly payment via a debt consolidation loan. And then set up an automatic payment for that loan!

Step two: automate your payments

See if your bank or credit union offers an automated bill pay service, and sign up. The more bills you have taken care of automatically, the less likely you are to miss payments if you’re out sick.

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There are also services like Dave.com that help you manage your cash flow, so you don’t get hit with overdraft fees. Automating payments (and savings) can significantly reduce the mental load of managing your day-to-day finances.

Step three: illuminate your partner

As the old saying goes, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Have the hard conversation with your partner or family about your overall financial situation. If you handle the finances, it’s important to share details of how to access accounts with your partner.

If you’ve been a passenger in your own financial life, now is a perfect time to engage. One resource to guide you through the process is Tips for Talking About Your Finances with Your Partner.

Step four: insulate your loved ones

If you have kids, make sure you have life insurance (it may be cheaper to get this than you think). Policy Genius is a great place to start and check with your employer on what options they offer. Don’t put it off.

And if nothing else, now is a good time to define what “emergency” means to you. The rule of thumb for an emergency fund is to have three to six months of expenses in savings, so you can weather short-term storms. If you don’t have this in place, look for expenses you can cut now and divert to savings.

Prepping is no longer the domain of fringe dwellers. With school closures, working from home, and cancellations of events, many people will have extra time on their hands. So use that time for some financial prepping to clarify your financial position and plan for the future. If not now, what are you waiting for?

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Jane Barratt is the chief advocacy officer at MX.

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