I wrote three personal finance/business books and covered money news for more than a decade — but I can honestly say, this “new normal” is something I never expected. Sure, there are black swan events like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster that economists and pundits have already spent time thinking about. But, this is far from the list of most models and projects of where our economy and the world would be in 2020.
The truth is: We can’t control the global economy. But we can control ourselves. Here are 5 ways to do that amidst the chaos:
From your car payment to rent payment to utility payment. Ask all your bill collectors to work with you. We are all in a similar situation so the truth is, not all bill collectors will hook you up. But, what I do know for certain: the answer is always “no” if you don’t ask. I also know this for sure: no one is going to call you with a break in your payments (unless mandated by the government, of course) so you have to be proactive about getting bills and payments down.
Go On A Cleanse.
Not a food cleanse, of course, but a news cleanse. I was a network news and business news anchor for more than a decade and, yes, I’m asking you to mute my former self. I used to get nightmares from the 24/7/365 nature of the headlines. It’s stress-causing, anxiety-provoking and not good for your overall mental health or decision making with your two most important assets: your health and your wealth. You are not a day trader. You are not one of those guys on the floor of the exchange screaming for orders. You are trying to keep calm during the chaos, like the rest of us, and the best way to keep your financial house in order during this is to turn off all of those notifications.
Create a Spending Plan.
Normally, I suggest sticking to the 3 Es: Essentials, Endgame and Extras, with 70% of your gross take-home pay going to the Essentials (food, housing, transportation, etc.) and at least 15% going to your Endgame (investments, savings, etc.). I also suggest to never skimp on allowing for something in the Extras category (latte, mani/pedi, nights out, etc.) because allowing for small indulgences will keep you on track and keep you from bingeing later on. But, we are in a new normal for the time being at least where a lot of the Extras don’t make sense or simply aren’t even available if we wanted them to be or could afford them. With that said, I suggest limiting Extras to 5% of your overall Spending Plan, looking for lower-priced self-care options or free indulgences (hello, hiking!). Then I would aim to cut down on Essentials (by negotiating and/or reining in costs) to 65% while aiming to squirrel away more. When the state of the economy comes back to normal (and it will), it might be a good idea to live below your means anyway, especially if you found yourself unprepared with an emergency fund for this crisis.
If you have a mortgage (debt), this is a great time to look at refinancing. If you have a mortgage that is at 4 or 5%, it may be too high. So, now is a good time to look at getting it down. If you have an adjustable-rate or balloon mortgage, try to lock it down with a lower, fixed-rate mortgage. Debt is traditionally the only four-letter word I don’t like, but it’s there for a reason and if used responsibly, it can be your hero (one of my favorite four-letter words!). Plus, if you have been working on stellar credit all along, you can reap the benefits of lower interest rates when you need them (aka now). If you need to take on credit card debt, that’s okay. Getting into debt during an emergency is fine as long as you have a plan to get out of it and add steady repayments into your Spending Plan. Truth be told, I got into credit card debt for stupid reasons (wanting a cooler wardrobe), and I came up with a plan to “prioritize to pulverize.” So if you get into it responsibly, you will get out of it the same way. Remember, debt is a tool. And, just like a hammer, it can be used to build a house or destroy it. It’s all how you use it.Remember, debt is a tool. And, just like a hammer, it can be used to build a house or destroy it. It’s all how you use it. Click To Tweet
Take a Stand.
Decide what role you want to play in this crisis. If you have a company and you haven’t taken a stand already, take one. Tell your employees what to expect. Make a plan for your customers. Decide how much room you have to operate without turning a profit and invest in people however you can without putting yourself or your business out. How can you be of service to those closest to you? If you truly can’t give much now, that’s okay, too. But, if there’s an option to be of service, take that option. If you have no employees or even recently lost your job, take a stand for yourself or your family. Going into chaos with intention is the most surefire way to navigate it successfully.
There is so much uncertainty in our daily lives right now, and it’s continuously changing and getting further away from our normal. Taking charge, in the ways that we are still able, can be empowering and help to reduce the anxiety and stress that we are all facing around our money. The best antidote I have for chaos is breaking it down into steps. Baby steps, baby.
A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.