The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has taken over the world. As of March 30, 2020, there were more than 770,000 cases and nearly 37,000 deaths reported worldwide. It has affected the young and old alike and turned daily life in nearly every country into a surreal nightmare.
From a financial point of view alone, it’s an extremely uncertain and stressful time. Millions of people are unable to work and yet still must pay rent, car payments, student loan debt and more. Buying groceries and other essentials has become a challenge for many, too, and not just because there isn’t enough toilet paper to go around.
However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t ways of getting through this pandemic. GOBankingRates spoke with 16 people around the world who have been affected by the coronavirus, from job losses to life-threatening health concerns, and asked them for their best financial advice. Learn what you can do to manage your money during the outbreak.
Nicole Diaz and her husband were in Ireland celebrating her 30th birthday when the coronavirus really started taking over. In the days leading up to their trip, more and more tours had been postponed and the country’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which drew 500,000 people last year, was canceled.
They had been in the country for less than 48 hours when they learned that they needed to fly home to California immediately.
“We had to buy an emergency flight back to the U.S. once we saw that Ireland got added to the travel ban list,” Diaz said. “We ended up shelling out a little over $2,000 on the emergency flight back to Los Angeles.”
Fortunately, they were able to get home and enter self-isolation immediately.
“If I could give others advice, it would be to make sure you always have a cushion for emergencies like this,” Diaz said. “Thankfully, we had that cushion. I’ve been making it a habit to put at least 20% of my paycheck away toward savings and so this extra money helped us a lot.”
“I’d also recommend in the future — once it’s OK to travel again — to get travel insurance that includes a ‘cancel for any reason’ clause,” Diaz said. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t covered by most insurances as an eligible claim.”
Reading the fine print is important in any contract you sign but can be particularly important with insurance. It could save you thousands of dollars down the line.
Ohio resident Cali Leasure has seen the toll the coronavirus has taken on employment firsthand. Her mother was laid off due to the outbreak.
Plus, her own employment is on hold due to major health concerns.
“I can’t start my new job because I’m considered high risk due to heart disease,” she said.
In a recent GOBankingRates survey, 42% of respondents said they’d spend the stimulus check the government has promised on groceries and other essentials, but going into the store with no plan is a surefire way to spend more than you should right now.
“Don’t buy unnecessary items,” Leasure said, “and keep your grocery bill to a minimum by planning out your meals each week, and only buying what is important.”
Samantha Silva lives in Seattle, a hotspot for the outbreak.
“I had been working in the hospitality industry as a bartender until Governor Inslee ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants,” she said.
Now, Silva is struggling to keep afloat, especially when it comes to her student loans.
“Out of everything I have had to deal with, the most stressful part has been dealing with private student loan companies,” she said.
When considering her repayment options, Silva saw that companies were offering to let borrowers pay with credit cards but she didn’t think that was the best option for her. She wanted to figure out another way to pay, but her loan provider became extremely difficult to get ahold of.
“Salle Mae closed their call centers and was only operating customer service via their app,” she said.
Silva, like many others, was looking at defaulting on loans while she prioritized more pressing things. “I don’t see student loan payments as essential and was honestly ready to accept that I wouldn’t be able to pay them,” she said.
Silva kept trying to get a hold of the company despite her frustration and other more pressing bills. It finally paid off when Salle Mae informed her that they would be offering an emergency forbearance option for borrowers affected by the pandemic. “I’m still accruing interest, but it is better than defaulting,” she said.
Remember that most businesses – including banks – are affected by this crisis. Talking to your loan provider about what they’re doing to help their customers during this time could reveal options you aren’t aware of.
Jennifer Rick lives in New York, the state with the most reported cases and confirmed deaths in the U.S. as of March 29, 2020.
“I was a licensed clinical social worker working at a small company that provides evaluations and treatment for kids and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism spectrum disorder,” Rick said. “We had to close … due to Governor Cuomo’s announcement that all ‘non-essential’ businesses close operations. My boss is hopeful that this closure is just temporary, but it still leaves us unemployed for the next few months.”
Fortunately, Rick’s husband still has an income and health insurance that covers them both, so they are financially sound for the time being. But they are still dealing with being cooped up in the house just like millions of others around the world. With no clear end in sight, it would be very easy to neglect one’s health, both mental and physical.
“I’ve taken advantage of streaming fitness classes, many of which are offering free trials,” Rick said. “Headspace is offering a free membership for healthcare professionals to promote mindfulness. These are great ways to be budget-conscious but also help with self-care.”
Musician Tim Farkas performs several shows a year for senior citizens.
“For me, it’s been like the day the music died,” he said. “I thought there would be a handful of cancellations, but I never dreamed it could be an entire year. I’ve lost 12 shows so far and I expect to lose many more.”
Though Farkas, like the rest of the world, is taking it day-by-day and hoping for good news, he knows that it could get worse before it gets better.
“Realistically, I’m hoping things pick up again after July 4, but I know worst-case scenario could be [lost business] all year.”
One of the best things you can do to ensure financial security is to have diverse streams of income. Maybe you work a normal 9-to-5 but you sell crafts online, or maybe you run a blog but also dabble in real estate. Having multiple ways to make money — especially passively — is a huge help in times of economic uncertainty.
Of course, hindsight is 2020. Farkas said, “I wish I would have gotten a part-time job in the service industry and set those earnings aside for a rainy day.”
The good news is there are still ways to make money fast right now – many of which you can do from the safety of your home.
Susie Fox is a high school teacher in Los Angeles. She is in a unique position to have essentially lost her job — schools are closed for the remainder of the year — but to still be making money. “When this all began, I was really worried because of all the uncertainties with payroll, student academic performance and the new technology needed to teach remotely. I feel lucky to still have a steady income despite the almost three-month-long school closures.”
That said, things haven’t been easy. Immediately before the city went into self-isolation, Fox and her boyfriend made a major purchase: a house. They moved into the cramped guest house since the main house was in desperate need of renovations. Now they have been forced to reevaluate every purchase — would it be toilet paper or lumber?
“Staying at home has actually caused me to save money,” Fox said, “since I’m no longer buying gas for my hour-long commute, shopping for unnecessary things or grabbing Starbucks going to and from work. This made me realize that I needed a budget in place to sort out what is truly a need vs. what is just a want.”
If you can determine what you need to get through the coming weeks — food, cleaning supplies, etc. — it will help you avoid panic buying or splurging on things just because you feel out of control.
It might sound unnecessary, but it’s important to either get your budget down on paper or typed up on the computer so that you can constantly see it and stick to it. If it is just a vague concept, you’re less likely to follow it.
“My boyfriend and I sat down and hashed out a plan for our house renovations and put them in a really detailed Excel spreadsheet,” Fox said. “With our budget put in front of us, we can confidently order exactly what we need from Home Depot instead of going in and wandering aimlessly, grabbing things that ‘might be useful’ and charging them to the credit card we use for ‘house stuff.’”
Cole Thomas is the manager of a sports performance facility working primarily with professional athletes.
“For me, the immediate postponement and cancellation of sporting events disrupted everything, but probably not in the way you’d expect,” he said. “You’d think it would put us out of business, but it actually meant more players wanted to train with us to keep their skills sharp while they waited.”
“However, when California mandated that all fitness and training facilities had to close, it meant we had to roll out a large-scale remote training model in the span of a day,” Thomas said. “We always have ways to help out athletes when they go on vacation, are out for injuries, etc. but this was a new challenge, to say the least.”
Thomas had financial advice for business owners during the pandemic.
“A lot of businesses won’t be able to survive this pandemic because they can’t or are unwilling to adapt,” he said. “If you can start doing things virtually for your clients or you can offer delivery or something along those lines, do it. Customers will appreciate the added effort and you might be able to keep business as close to normal as possible.”
Latifah Al-Hazza, co-owner of womens-only tour company Femscape Sojourns was in Morocco when the outbreak really picked up momentum in the U.S.
“At 2:00 a.m., on the morning of March 12, 2020, we woke up to loud banging on our door,” Al-Hazza said. “It was two of our clients who frantically informed us that that they needed to fly home ASAP as America was shutting its borders from Europe. Their original flight home, a few days later, was through Europe.”
Fortunately, after six hours of phone calls and stress, Al-Hazza was able to get her clients on new flights. The only problem was that she and her mother, co-owner of the business, now needed to get home, too.
After debating whether to fly out the 15th or 19th, they ultimately decided sooner was safer.
“Little did we know … on the morning of March 15, Morocco announced that it would close its borders within 24 hours,” she said.
If you’ve been poking around travel sites to check out deals, you’ll see there are some crazy low fares to be had. But before you book that winter trip to Barcelona, think twice.
“Do not go crazy purchasing future flights right now because prices are low,” Al-Hazza said. “We don’t know how long this will last.”
You could very well find yourself with a useless ticket if things continue the way they have been. Plus, you could be putting yourself and others at unnecessary risk.
Along with scooping up cheap flights, people might be tempted to deal with their cabin fever in the form of online shopping. Al-Hazza believes that is a mistake.
“Do not go crazy online shopping from big name brands because you are bored and quarantined at home,” she said. “Save your money — we don’t know the future of our careers and the economy.”
However, if you’re really tempted, Al-Hazza said, “If you want to spend a little, spend it on small businesses who are hurting the most.”
Like many in the service industry, Sarah Nichols had more than one job to make ends meet. However, she lost all of them when California announced bars and restaurants would close to dine-in patrons.
A savings buffer ended up saving her.
“I was lucky to have submitted my taxes long before they were due in April, so I received my refund right as businesses — including two I work for — began to close down due to the pandemic.”
“Saving for an emergency fund is difficult to be mindful of when you live paycheck to paycheck, so my advice would be to always use your taxes to your financial advantage,” Nichols said. “Whether it means withholding an additional amount from each check so you wind up with a healthy return, or doing the opposite so you have more money throughout the year, it pays to plan your tax withholdings according to your needs and saving habits.”
All that said, if you aren’t looking at getting a return back and might actually owe money to the IRS this year, the good news is that the newly extended tax filing deadline is July 15, 2020.
Eric Rosenberg, the creator of Personal Profitability, said, “I had to cancel a trip I had booked for my parents to come visit me. My dad has cancer, so any travel during this time would be a huge risk.”
Rosenberg, who travels frequently, said the refund process was not as easy as it has been in the past. “Unfortunately, long waits and poor service from the airline reward programs and credit card company made the refund process a huge challenge.”
It’s inevitable, between all the canceled flights, hotel stays, events and more, that many people will be spending a lot of time on the phone with customer service. Don’t give up. It’s your money, and you deserve it back.
“Stay persistent if you’re working with an airline or travel company for a credit or refund during the coronavirus crisis,” Rosenberg said. “By staying friendly and not letting things go, I’ve been able to make progress toward a full credit or refund for both flights.”
Fintech marketing and strategy executive Miriam Ballesteros is based in Spain, a country with more than 85,000 confirmed cases and 7,300 deaths as of March 30, 2020. Fortunately, the biggest way she has been affected was a loss of investment.
“As the markets went down, my current balance became over 40% lower — which doesn’t feel good at all,” Ballesteros said.
Though it’s tempting to pull all your money out of the stock market, history shows that — unless you plan to retire soon — staying the course is often for the best option.
“It’s tempting to take the money out of the investments during this down time but I’m not doing so. Emotions make for terrible investment decisions,” Ballesteros said. “If you were already investing, keep doing it.”
In fact, Ballesteros said you might even be able to “buy the dip” successfully.
“Remember that your deposits can buy more when markets are down — it’s like you’re buying stocks ‘on sale.’”
Ballesteros also recommends reviewing your finances during this time.
“In the face of financial uncertainty, I always recommend taking some concrete action,” she said. “For starters, as a lot of us are staying in more — be it working from home, not traveling, not going out to events and restaurants — you can have some extra time to review your money situation and make it stronger. If your income is not affected, take the chance to spend less during this time, which will help you save up.”
California resident Melissa Petersen and her partner had just devised a plan to tackle their finances, including a sizable car payment, when the coronavirus struck.
“At the time, I was a substitute teacher for Santa Cruz County; a sales associate at Ethos, a small, low-waste shop in Capitola, California; and was meant to begin babysitting my neighbors’ one-year-old daughter,” she said. “Now, I am still employed by Ethos, thanks to the grace of my amazing boss … but substituting and babysitting is no longer an option.”
Unable to pay bills on one job alone, Petersen has had to get a side hustle.
“I have applied to become an Uber Eats and Postmates driver to compensate for the cut in my income,” she said.
Money is tight for Petersen, but she recognizes she’s lucky to have work. She encourages people who are financially able to do so to support small businesses — like Ethos — as she does the same.
“Buying local and supporting restaurants by becoming an Uber Eats and Postmates driver has been the easiest and most financially straightforward way for me to support others who might have it worse,” she said.
Whether it is buying a gift card to use in the future or ordering delivery, you can support businesses you care about that are struggling during this time.
Ivy S., who preferred not to disclose her last name, is a hairstylist in California. Due to the close contact nature of her job, she’s unable to work right now. “My job is closed for at least a month, and employees get no pay,” she said. “My emergency savings will be gone in month.”
The stylist was already making frugal choices by shopping at thrift stores, cooking at home and cutting and styling her own hair — note, again, that she is a professional — but she’s stepping up her game. “I’m definitely going to be even more frugal from now on because I know there is no windfall or anything to take care of me.”
Cutting out coupons or having an envelope system of cash might seem old school, but these techniques certainly couldn’t hurt right now.
Jonathan Carey, a bartender at a popular restaurant in New York City, had plans to move out of his sister’s home and into his own apartment prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Then, he was laid off when New York had to close all its nonessential businesses.
“Life was definitely on an upswing leading up to the crisis,” Carey said, “and then, suddenly, the rug was ripped out from underneath me.”
“The New York State unemployment website was terrible to navigate due to an abundance of new users,” Carey said, “but remaining patient, I was able to file my claim. NYS waived the waiting week so I could start receiving benefits right away.”
Over 3 million people filed unemployment claims in March. As admirable as it is to take on other jobs to support yourself and your family, there is no shame in utilizing this resource, especially at such an unprecedented time.
Christy B., who preferred not to give her last name, is in a high-risk age group and has a preexisting lung disease, which means should she contract the coronavirus, she would have a very difficult time recovering. She’s been staying away from others as much as possible, but must visit her mother, who is also high-risk.
“It’s a very scary time right now. Along with worrying about family members, friends and our community, my health issues tend to cross my mind throughout the day,” she said. “I worry about exposure and people not taking this thing seriously.”
“It’s hard being cooped up in the house with nothing but bad news on the TV and your phone,” Christy said, “but I’ve found this great little paint by numbers app to kill the time. It’s really soothing – all you’re doing is clicking the numbers to fill in the different colors that will form a picture in the end.”
“I recommend going into the app store on your phone and downloading some free games – puzzles, word games, etc. – just something that will keep you busy and stress-free,” she said. “These can be great time-fillers for kids, too, and can even be educational.”
Every year, Mary Ann Huntington puts on a massive Easter egg hunt for the children in her neighborhood. She stuffs hundreds of plastic eggs with candy, toys and about $300 in change, and then lets the kids have at it. It’s something that she and the families in the neighborhood look forward to for weeks leading up to the event.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus put a wrench into Huntington’s plans.
“I started to realize that this thing wasn’t going away, and it just wasn’t safe to do the egg hunt,” she said. “I had already stuffed all the eggs and everything. It was so sad to disappoint the kids.”
It can feel like a big loss both emotionally and financially to have to cancel an event. But there are ways to get creative about it to lessen the blow.
“Instead of completely canceling, I’ve decided to postpone our Easter celebration for everyone’s safety,” Huntington said. “I’ve rescheduled it for the 4th of July, hoping it will be gone by then. I’m calling it ‘Easter in July’ and we’ll make it just as special, if not more so, than our regular celebration.”
Remember Skype calls, social distancing dance parties and more come at little to no cost. Just because you’re stuck indoors doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 16 Real People Affected By the Coronavirus Give Their Best Financial Advice
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