How to Navigate an Emergency without an Emergency Fund
It’s not helpful to scold anyone for not saving for the present moment. And it’s a lot of people. 50% of Americans don’t have the emergency savings to live through the Covid-19 pandemic. Maybe you’ve just started your job or just started to get your financial life under control. Or maybe your financial situation was never in control. Whatever your situation, if you find yourself in an emergency situation without an emergency fund, here’s how to handle it.
You Need to Calm Down
So you’ve lost your job. Speed is very important at this time, but you also need to maintain a level head. You are likely feeling a lot of anxiety and stress, possibly guilt and shame. A lot of people are in the same boat as you, and a lot of people have not been able to save enough in order to weather this storm. This is not the time to browbeat yourself!
Take a deep breath. Show some compassion for your predicament and know you are not alone in this. And know that it’s not too late. You still have a lot of control over your situation.
Reduce Your Liabilities
Let’s start with the bad. Honestly, it’s better to get the bad news first rather than dreading it. Now is the time to 1) reduce any costs that are not absolutely necessary; 2) take advantage of any programs that help you reduce your bills; and 3) call any necessary providers to see if they’ll relent on your bills.
Reduce Unnecessary Costs
Be ruthless in cutting your costs. In a way, it’s easier to do this now because you can’t spend money on eating out at great restaurants or on fancy vacations. Also you may not need to spend as much money on clothing right now with so many Zoom conferences. (See: Walmart Selling Lots of Tops, Not as Many Pants). You can’t spend money on the gym, on the spa, movie tickets.
But if you can cut out anything that is a subscription that isn’t necessary. Cut out giving to charity or to others for now. You have to be sure that your own financial situation is secure before you can help others.
Be ruthless in cutting your budget. You can always re-subscribe or give later.
I will have this caveat – a lot of people will say to cut out Netflix or Spotify or newspaper service you have. Granted, I just said cut everything. But for a single $6 or $10 service that might provide you some escapism solace during this time, well I won’t judge you if you keep this for yourself. I hear that Tiger King show is pretty wild. If you really love it, and it’s a small amount of money, you can keep it until it gets really dire.
Take Advantage of Provided Help
During the pandemic, some states have called for eviction moratoriums and Congress has offered forbearance for federal student loan payments. For rent or mortgage payments – this only defers the process. That means, you could be stuck with a huge bill and/or eviction when all of this is over. Thus, I would still prioritize paying rent even if you can’t get evicted for months.
Student loan forbearance applies to federal student loans. Your payments to these loans will automatically stop until September 30, 2020. Unlike rent, you will not have to pay back those payments in a lump sum if you don’t pay now. Therefore, skip your federal student loan payments. You still, however, have to make payments to private student loans.
The FCC lists 650 companies that have promised not to cut off internet connectivity to those who cannot pay, and to open up wifi hotspots. Thus, if your internet provider is on that list, if you don’t pay on your scheduled due date, the company will not seek the money from you at this time. It’s unclear if the provider might seek repayment in the future (probably), but for now, they won’t cut off your internet.
Reduce Costs from Necessary Payments
Anytime you lose your job, try and call all the companies you use to see if they might be forgiving – maybe waiving interest, reducing payments, etc. You never know until you ask. This includes your bank, your auto insurance, your child care provider, etc. For your credit cards, if you made any big-ticket items that have reduced in price, see if you can get a price adjustment. For any big-ticket items that you want to and can return for money, do that immediately.
If you are still being charged for services that you are no longer receiving during the pandemic (like child care or your gym membership, for example), then call those companies to see if you can get a credit for the future. I understand that local businesses may be hurting right now, but you may not be in a position at this point to give charitably. Work to reduce your costs as much as possible now so that you may be in a better position to help later.
Calculate Your Assets
Now that you know what your costs are, you need to know what you’re working with. Hopefully, this will make you feel a bit better about your liabilities.
Ok maybe you don’t have an emergency fund. But there is more to assets than money.
Cash and cash equivalents – how much money do you have around the house?
- Figure out if you’re receiving any severance.
- Corral your gift cards.
- Redeem your credit card points to lower your bills.
- Consider applying for a 0% interest credit card to tide you over. Some cards allow you not to pay interest until 2021.
Your pantry – how much food do you have? Many of us have food stored in our freezer or pantry that we have pushed to the back of our shelves and our minds. If you access all the food in your house, you may be able to reduce your grocery spending in the future.
Your network – your friends, family, and former coworkers who want to help you out during a difficult time. Be sure to send out an APB to all these people to let you know to be on the lookout for positions that might fit you.
Your community – look into what organizations in your area can help you in these situations. Churches, charities, organizations set up just to help people hurt by COVID-19. Google your city or local newspaper + coronavirus + help workers.
Your investments and loans – it’s a last-ditch effort, but consider looking into costs and penalties for cashing out some of your investments, retirement accounts or obtaining small loans from your bank. This is not Plan A, but you should be organized and prepared for Plans, B, C, D, etc.
Congress’ CARES Act – the Stimulus Bill passed in order to aid with effects of the coronavirus – allows for a 401(k) coronavirus-related distribution up to $100,000 or the total value of the account without fees.
Get More Money
Apply for your state’s unemployment insurance. The CARES Act adds an extra $600/week to all unemployment insurance recipients.
If you need money fast, you can’t be too high and mighty. There are plenty of companies hiring now but they are not dream jobs. But if you need money to put food on the table, or to pay for that table, then you have to earn that money! Grocery store workers and delivery workers – these jobs are sorely in demand right now.
Look for Jobs
Set some job alerts for your type of work on Indeed. Follow your favorite employers on social media and check to see if any of them are hiring. Look up some job listings and find a few that you like. Update your resume and template cover letter, tailored to match the criteria specified in your favorite jobs. Aim to apply to at least one job per day – no need to overwhelm yourself and always ensure that you send a great application package every time.
Depending on how your industry, or the entire economy, is faring, it may take weeks, months, or possibly years to get another job to your liking. That doesn’t mean you can expect to rest on your laurels.
Reach out to others in your field to request informational interviews. Keep in contact with your former coworkers, old classmates, and friends via phone or internet calls (in a friendly manner, not solely to advance your own career.)
Take some time to work on your hobbies. Read books in your field. Write. Journal. Don’t fall into a pit of despair. A change in luck could be right around the corner.
Don’t Spend All Your Time Watching the News
It feels like COVID-19 is all anyone can talk about. I sometimes dream that social distancing sports like skiing, golf, or tennis were on just so that we could talk about something, ANYTHING else. I even miss talking about presidential debates that I never watched! Try to be the person who can think of something else to talk about. Preferably something positive. Otherwise we will all drive ourselves crazy.
Beware of Scams and MLMs
If an offer is too good to be true, then it probably is. But also be wary of notices that seem too BAD to be true. Global crises often bring out the absolute best and worst in people. For instance, I recently received a phone call alleging to be a process server that didn’t have my correct address, and that I was needed in court “for some reason.” If the call hadn’t gotten my name incorrectly and wasn’t about the legal world (of which I’m slightly familiar) I might have fallen for it. Don’t fall for scams. Slow and steady wins the race and beware of giving in to your panic.
Do Not Be Rash About Pets
I saw a sample post-coronavirus budget that reduced pet costs to $0. I don’t know how you can stop spending any money on your pets (including for food) unless you are abandoning them. I know you have to do what you have to do, but that’s cruel. Your pet is part of your family – you can’t stop feeding, you can’t kick Fido to the curb.
Similarly, a lot of people are adopting pets for companionship during quarantine. If you just lost your job, this may not be a great idea. Pets are very expensive, and if you get a pet, you are in it for the long haul. You cannot ethically get rid of your pet if your finances get too dire.
Wallow a Little Bit
Take another deep breath and feel a bit sorry for yourself. It’s fine to sulk a little bit and just feel our emotions. Yes, other people likely have much worse problems. But you get to feel sadness for your own problems. Give yourself a few minutes to wallow, to sulk, to whine, to cry out “WHY ME?!?!?” Then, go for a little walk (socially distant of course!) or do whatever it is that makes you feel calm and at peace (for me it’s to run or bike), breathe some fresh air, and let it go.
Celebrate a Little Bit
Celebrate? What’s there to celebrate? Well, you’ve done a great job! You’ve done the best you can given the tough circumstances. Count your blessings and express a little gratitude that you have resources, you have your health (I hope), and that you can still maintain hope for the future.
Increase Your Immunity
This is the best time to take care of your health. Social distance. Take a lot of Vitamin C. Eat great home-cooked food. Exercise, Schedule calls with your friends and family. Try any of 50 calming activities. Don’t sit so much. Do some push-ups. Wash your hands. WASH YOUR PHONE. Cover your mouth. Avoid the grocery store as much as you can (people are not taking adequate precautions there, acting as if it’s base in a coronavirus tag game). This is not the time to get sick.
Increase Your Agency
The best way to deal with a problem that leaves you wrecked with anxiety is taking proactive steps to improve the situation. No, this does not mean panic buying (please don’t panic buy). If you find that you are left with some breathing room in finances, consider donating to a worthy cause or, if blessed with extra time, consider donating blood or helping those on the front lines wiht child or petcare.
How to Navigate an Emergency Without an Emergency Fund
It’s not the ideal situation to be caught flat-footed during an emergency, but it is what it is. Many Americans are in the same boat with you, and people are organizing to help. Hang in there – we have each other and this boat is probably going to face rougher seas before it hits more placid waters.