I don’t feel better off right now.
I barely know anyone who does.
Yet, intuitively, I should feel better. The stock market is way up over the last few months, and it has taken my accounts up with it. Gross domestic product seems to be growing faster than expected, the latest jobs report shows 1.4 million new hires and an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent in August; the Federal Reserve is flooding the market with cash while keeping interest rates lower for longer.
While I have suffered financially during the pandemic, it’s from the loss of side income – I am a sports official who has been sidelined due to the lack of games – and I have no complaints compared to the millions of people suffering real hardships.
Harry S. Truman came up with the old saw about how “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours,” but it doesn’t take anything as severe as job loss to feel depressed financially.
The few people I know who actually say they feel better off now seemingly are all in unique situations, profiting unexpectedly from the pandemic or with a clear vision as to how they’ll get through these times to come out ahead in the end. Even then, however, they’re not exuberant about their finances right now.
The rest of us are a bit down in the dumps when it comes to money, uncertain, nervous and edgy.
We’re worried about our jobs, affordable health care for our loved ones, spending – even as we wish we could spend normally – and how the pandemic’s undeniable impact on the economy might ultimately play out in the stock market. We’re worried for the financial conditions of friends and loved ones, even as we don’t really want to break the taboo of money to discuss those personal issues with them.
We’re anxious about investments because no matter how carefully we scrimped, saved, planned and invested, we still feel like we weren’t properly prepared for the times we’re living through. And we’re distressed about politics, disturbed by our visions of what happens to the country, Social Security, Medicare and more if the side we’re rooting for comes up short in November
Countless surveys showing money being a primary root cause for depression and stress, and that’s in the best of times.
Yet the twin devils of finance – fear and greed – are never more in your face than during troubling times when it’s hard to decide if the next market gyration is a buying opportunity or the beginning of the next recession.
You can’t keep emotions in check completely these days, especially around your finances if bills are piling up, cash is not coming in and the level of uncertainty is on the rise.
You can, however, do some things to avoid ulcers and keep financial emotions in check, no matter how the headlines and market are running.
Here are the steps I’ve been taking (or revisiting) whenever the money/work/market/economy doubts resurface in my head.
Check your plan (or make one).
Planning helps you overcome impulses, beating back the fear and greed triggers that can mess things up.
Keep your eyes on the prize, and your focus on getting from here to there. If the pandemic is jeopardizing the planned path, devise a path for pushing through the hard times and coming out the other side.
Even if you’re forced to tap into resources you’d prefer not to touch, planning how, when and why you will pull money from those accounts will help minimize the damage.
Know where you stand, and spend.
Your plan is where you’re going, but your spending reflects where you are now. Check your bills and expenses, your needs and your wants and where the money goes. It sets you up to discuss changes, but also helps to set your spending priorities; knowing how much you pay for essentials – and that you can make those payments – will ease your nerves.
Identify what scares you, then minimize the risk and danger.
This involves a simple question: What are you afraid of?
Whether your fears are real and imminent – lost income is jeopardizing your ability to pay the rent/mortgage, for example – or hazy (i.e., your employer says your job is safe but you worry about furloughs, layoffs or a closing if economic activity doesn’t pick up), face the problem head on.
Decide what you’d do if your worst-case scenario comes true, combat your fears by deciding how you’d react, and then build your ideas into that plan of yours.
Talk to your partner and family.
Even if you feel okay about things, your spouse or partner, children or extended family might share your worries or have concerns of their own.
If you have money tensions at home, your kids can sense it, whether you’re open about it or not; your apprehensions will stress out the children, so get them involved and in line with what you are dealing with and they will come around to your ways for cutting the budget, stretching a dollar or simply being more cautious and careful before spending.
Talk about the situations, see where partners (and kids, to a lesser extent) have conflicting ideas and come up with shared vision for how you will respond as a team or a unit, and how you can pick each other up to get through this together.
Develop short-term or interim goals, achievements you can look forward to, ways you can overcome your disappointments and distress.
While you’re having those family discussions and re-evaluating your plans, come up with near-term targets and benchmarks you can aim for now, despite the stresses of the times.
Sharing your goals and targets with others develops support and encouragement. The family can celebrate the wins, and hopefully come up with more ways to stay positive and avoid being sucked into the pool of financial negativity that we’re likely to be swimming in for the foreseeable future.
Chuck Jaffe is a nationally syndicated financial columnist and the host of “Money Life with Chuck Jaffe.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and tune in at moneylifeshow.com.
Copyright, 2020, J Features