Every cloud has a silver lining
As a recent survey showed, COVID has changed the way consumers look at their finances. For many, the habits they forged during the pandemic will likely continue long after.
Here are a few of the best financial lessons consumers have learned with COVID-19.
Emergency funds are essential
Nothing reminds you that you don’t have an emergency fund like an actual emergency.
But for many, setting 20% aside every month is just not doable. That’s what experts recommend, though. The truth is, even if you can save $10 a month, that’s $120 a year. Add a little more when you can and you’ll at least be able to cover unexpected car repairs.
But as things get better and consumers find their finances getting back to normal, they’ll shift toward thinking about the next emergency. If there’s one thing that COVID made clear, it’s that life can throw out some unexpected twists. Even if the next emergency isn’t a global pandemic, there are plenty of other things that can stretch your finances beyond their limits.
The best way to save is to make it automatic. If you can slide a little extra money into savings every month, you’ll gradually build your savings without realizing it. With the CIT Savings Builder, you can earn interest of up to 0.40% on the money in that account. The site even has a calculator that will help you see how quickly your savings and interest can add up.
Health insurance is more than a mandate
For many younger consumers, health insurance was an afterthought. If you’re relatively healthy and your employer doesn’t provide insurance, it can seem like an unnecessary expense.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, though, otherwise healthy people have found themselves seeking healthcare. Paying out of pocket for testing and treatment was tough for some consumers. Even those who had insurance found they were on the hook for deductibles and copays.
The end result is that many younger people are reconsidering their choice to go without insurance. Instead of just getting the minimum coverage necessary to meet state mandates, they’re seeing how expensive illness can be without insurance. More consumers will likely shop around for the best medical coverage for the lowest rates.
Small budget cuts pay off
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The good news is that millions of those jobs are also expected to return. But that means a large chunk of the population was temporarily without work.
Unemployment naturally leads people to scrutinize their household budgets, looking for ways to cut back. That Netflix subscription might have been essential to get you through, but other luxury expenses, like premium cable TV and nightly takeout, might have been slashed.
The pandemic, by its very nature, made it easier. There was no need to buy new clothes when everyone was sheltered at home. You might have put vacations on hold, and you probably didn’t spend as much on entertainment as you previously had. Now that you realize how expensive those little purchases are, it will be easier to take a look at them once the economy is thriving again.
Debt is a liability
When there’s a blow to your income, any debt you have can be crushing. The average U.S. household owes $90,460. For Millennials, the average household debt is $78,396, an increase of 58% since 2015.
If your income sees a boost as COVID fades, it might be a good time to start knocking out that debt. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’ll be able to weather any future economic crises.
One of the first moves you can take is to seek out a lower interest rate. If you have credit card debt, moving or consolidating the balances to a card with a lower APR can save you money.
Another option is a personal loan. Loans will often come with lower interest rates than credit cards, plus you’ll have one low monthly payment rather than dealing with multiple bills. Fiona will help you compare interest rates from multiple lenders in one easy process; your actual quote will depend on your own creditworthiness and loan amount.
Everything can be done online
Once the world has been cleared to go back to life as normal, there’s no doubt people will start vacationing and attending events again. But there are some things that will remain online. Long before the pandemic, Millennials already relied heavily on popular pandemic staples like food delivery apps and videoconferencing tools.
But the pandemic spread this tech awareness across all generations. As demand increased, companies stepped up to meet the need. Post-pandemic, consumers will find plenty of choices when it comes to doing everything online.
In addition to food and grocery delivery, consumers have gotten used to getting services online. If you were still going to a brick-and-mortar bank or tax preparer’s office pre-COVID, you might decide you like the online alternative better.
Last, but not least, is the biggest change the pandemic brought to the world: remote work. How does this relate to your finances? If you’re still allowed to work from home after it’s safe to gather, as many consumers will be, you’ll save money on that daily commute, lunches with coworkers, and even clothing. That’s money you can start putting toward paying down debt or investing and saving.
It’s the thought that counts
COVID had a big impact on Christmas, with many families unable to get together. Shopping shifted online for obvious reasons, but spending was still higher than the previous year.
Despite what statistics show, though, many Americans found themselves unemployed during the Christmas season. When you’re forced to make your budget stretch, you realize what’s really important.
After the pandemic, holidays, birthdays, and every other family gathering will have a different meaning. For many, simply being able to hug a loved one is the biggest gift imaginable right now. But one pandemic habit that will benefit you for many years to come is giving gifts that are from the heart without draining your bank account.
Good credit is not negotiable
There was some good news to come out of the pandemic. One of those stories was the boost in credit scores that came as a result of people not spending. Credit utilization is an important part of your credit score, so if you weren’t charging, you might have seen a boost.
Whether your credit score has increased or not, though, now can be a great time to make the commitment to strengthen your score. Instead of spending extravagantly when times are good, you can save your credit for tough times. A solid credit score and low debt-to-income ratio will help you get a personal loan or lower-interest credit card if you need it someday.
Experiences beat stuff
If you had an extra $5,000, would you rather buy some electronics or spend it on a vacation?
Would you have answered the same way a year ago?
Travel has already started to pick up, and it’s only expected to continue to increase as consumers emerge from their COVID cocoons. It’s not just that consumers have missed spending time with family and friends. They’ve also seen the value of making lifelong memories.
In the years to come, you may find yourself making those crucial purchase decisions. Is it better to upgrade to a bigger house or invest your extra money in that European vacation you’ve always wanted? When you’ve spent a year staring at the same four walls, it’s easy to appreciate the benefits of getting out into the world.
As tough as the past year has been, some good things have come out of it. It’s served as a reset of sorts, letting consumers review their financial habits and make decisions that will help them in the future.
Whether you’re ready to start planning a big vacation, saving for retirement, reducing your debt, or setting up an emergency fund, if the pandemic served as a catalyst for those changes, you can turn it into a good thing. At the very least, you’ll be prepared for any future emergencies.