Author and Founder, The Frugal Feminista
Even in the best of times, people struggle with money. A recent survey found that 28.7 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. And with record unemployment numbers — and more to come — practical financial advice is needed more than ever. Enter Kara Stevens, author and founder of The Frugal Feminista.
“We need to really reconnect with our relationship with money,” Stevens says. “Which means having more conversations about money, and viewing money in terms of short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals.”
Many people find themselves unexpectedly in choppy financial waters, and most don’t have an emergency fund. But Stevens says it’s not too late to start building one. “If you haven’t stashed away an emergency fund, that can be a goal to focus on.”
Ways to build that fund include a stimulus check, if you received one, money saved from job and commuting expenses such as public transportation fare, gas and car maintenance, grooming, and hygiene products, and refunds on gym membership fees and other canceled services you’re no longer using.
Stevens advises that people temper expectations when it comes to making money from home and think in terms of meeting a specific earnings goal. Consider industries where demand is surging. “Places like Instacart, Uber Eats, and Doordash are definitely hiring,” she says. You can also leverage work experience. “If you have any type of background in childcare, for example,” Stevens says, “helping parents learn how to manage both being a parent and being a teacher at the same time could generate income.”
For people who have lost their jobs, Stevens lays out immediate practical steps to take.
First, file for unemployment. “Making sure that you’re getting your benefits is part of an overall plan to get yourself ready for what you’re going to do next.” Cut down on all job-related expenses and review your budget. “Reviewing your budget can give you more of an accurate insight into how much money you need to survive from month to month.”
Then, network to figure out what the job opportunities are. “Look beyond finding a ‛new’ job per se,” Stevens suggests. “Look back at previous employers that were a good fit, and think about part-time work, a consultant position, or just being in a pipeline for future opportunities.”
The new normal
Stevens thinks the financial rules have changed permanently. “People shouldn’t see this as an acute pain point right now, where once the pandemic dissipates, or they get a new job, or they’re no longer furloughed they go back to business as usual.”
The new rules Stevens predicts include bigger emergency funds, less credit card debt, more focus on retirement, and more dual incomes.
“The idea that $1,000 for three months is going to be enough is now outdated. An emergency fund is going to be non-negotiable and it will have to be as big as possible,” she says. As for credit cards, she says, “I think people are going to realize that paying in full and paying on time is the most important thing.”
Stevens says, “Job losses and furloughs have made us realize that we have to take retirement into our own hands and not rely on whatever our employers may offer and social security,” and that, “Women are going to take more leadership in financial matters because it’s affecting everyone. All hands on deck, more money in the house, is just better.”
Finally, Stevens thinks people will think of income differently. “I’d advise people to think in terms of income streams,” she says. “Having two to three forms of income will possibly be the new norm for people now that they know a global emergency like this can happen.”