Staying on top of your finances and credit can be stressful as is, but when you add a global pandemic and an economic recession to the mix you may find yourself feeling particularly weighed down.
And now that the additional $600 per week unemployment benefits have expired and 6 million Americans are left without enough cash to pay their bills, a sense of anxiety and panic continues to ripple across the nation.
In fact, The New York Times reports new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows, for the first time ever, over half of American adults (53%) feel that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health.
“[The pandemic] raises a lot of difficult questions about how to manage our money, what’s the best use of it,” Nicole Iacovoni, a Pennsylvania-based financial therapist, tells CNBC Select. “Everything is so unpredictable; we no longer have that job security and guaranteed, stable income. It’s certainly making people question, ‘How can I be prepared to weather a financial storm?'”
We asked Iacovoni her advice on how people can stay on track of their finances while also having peace of mind. Here are her three tips.
1. Press “pause” on your debt payoff plan
If you’re among the millions of Americans who have lost their job or expect a loss of income in the near future, stick with just making the minimum payment on your lower priority debts for now. These are bills that, if go unpaid, won’t have an immediate and severe consequence to you or your family. Examples of these low priority debts, as defined by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), include medical bills, credit card debt and student loans.
But remember to at least pay the monthly minimum on your bills. You’ll remain current on your accounts that way, and your credit score will stay mostly on track — therefore minimizing any possible feelings of guilt, Iacovoni says.
Of course, making only minimum payments on credit card debt will cost you more in interest and prolong the amount of time you ultimately carry a balance. Even the best low interest credit cards come with double-digit APR rates: the DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has a regular variable APR of 11.50% and the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card goes up to 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR after its introductory 12-month no-interest period on new purchases.
Make sure you know the interest you’ll be charged beforehand and decide whether or not pausing your debt payoff is worth it.
2. Find comfort in new routines
While the stress of a global pandemic could send you running towards material comforts, Iacovoni suggests keeping your money in your pocket instead of spending it on new belongings.
“In times of stress, we all seek comfort,” she says, noting that we often crave the feeling of spending and the dopamine rush that comes with it.
“We spend just because it feels good,” she says. “We use it as a comfort and sort of like comfort food and eating when we’re not hungry, we spend when we don’t need to.”
Instead, try little habits that can bring routine and a sense of stability back in your life — and that come at no additional financial expense. Some have reported that making the bed each morning is now a comforting ritual, along with dressing as if you were going into the office or making a to-do list for every day. Find new ways to feel fulfilled and relaxed at home, such as exercising, doing artwork or chatting with a friend.
And as you look ahead to possible new windfalls of cash, such as a stimulus check, plan on using them to save, invest or pay off debt, knowing that long-term security is perhaps the ultimate comfort.
3. See the pandemic as an opportunity to get better with money
Pre-pandemic, you might have made entirely different choices than the ones you’ll be making now. And Iacovoni says this is perfectly normal.
She’s heard from multiple clients who regret making a big but unnecessary purchase before the coronavirus pandemic hit, or that they wished they had saved up an emergency fund or paid off their debt so they wouldn’t be worried about those payments now.
But you’re not alone if you are financially unprepared during these times. Try to channel that feeling of guilt or shame about what you didn’t do to prepare for this financial storm into something productive for your future.
“See it as an opportunity to take a more active role in your financial life and make better decisions moving forward, so you’ll never be in a state of financial panic again,” Iacovoni says.
Start by creating a budget for your “new normal.” You can read our step-by-step guide here. Once you have a handle on your monthly expenses, pull your credit report to see where your credit stands. The three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — offer free credit reports to all Americans on a weekly basis via AnnualCreditReport.com. And if you’re looking for a community of people in the same financial boat, know that there are free online personal finance groups, such as the Financial Common Cents Facebook group, that offer advice on how to get better with money.
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