You may remember doing various emergency drills as a child for tornadoes, earthquakes, and fire. Many of us know how to prepare for seasonally extreme weather like blizzards by having extra food, water, and household supplies on hand.
But are you ready for life if you can't leave home for several weeks—like in Italy and parts of Asia?
Many of us do not know how to adequately prepare for how the novel coronavirus is going to affect our daily habits. Entire nations are undergoing total lockdown to limit the viral spread. It may only be a matter of time before we need to take similar steps.
"Social distancing" and "flattening the curve" are impacting our daily habits and canceling spring travel plans may just be the beginning.
When it comes to your money, there are steps you can take today to make your life a little bit easier, especially if you need to stay home for an extended period of time.
Automate your finances
Automating your monthly banking activities is a good move under normal circumstances. It is an easy way to simplify your life. Reducing your public exposure can minimize your risk of getting sick too. Instead of running non-essential errands, you can do all of your monthly banking from home.
Enrolling in automatic payments prevents the chance of missing bill dates and paying late charges. Some merchants and utilities even give you a small payment discount—saving you both money and time.
Also consider using online bill pay instead of paying your bill in-person or with a check. If there's a self- service payment kiosk, can you guarantee it's clean?
These are some of the bills you should auto-pay to avoid the bank or payment kiosk:
- Utilities (i.e., electric, water, and gas)
- Cell phone
- Cable TV and internet
- Charitable donations
- Home mortgage or rent
- Credit card statements
- Recurring monthly subscriptions (i.e., gym membership, streaming apps)
- Sinking funds
You will still need to monitor your transactions on a weekly or monthly basis. Make sure your payment amounts don't increase without notice.
Keep investing for retirement
Pandemics and other unexpected events make it easy to only focus on the near-term and panic about the long-term.
Auto-investing into your 401(k) or retirement plan with each paycheck encourages you to remember the long-term.
Stock market volatility is gut-wrenching—even if you've been through a previous recession. Seeing massive drops and jumps tests even the calmest investor.
But if you stop investing out of fear, it can be difficult to start again. It can be even harder to stay invested during the next period market volatility.
Cancel unnecessary subscriptions
Your family may have more time to use digital video and music streaming apps during a self-quarantine. Reviewing your monthly spending is a prime opportunity to cancel unnecessary subscriptions.
This low-hanging fruit is an easy way to save money. As a quarantine is affecting many paychecks (not everyone can work from home), temporarily cutting expenses can be an act of necessity to pay your bills.
If you're on unpaid leave with your regular job until business returns to normal, you can search for a temporary gig with minimal public exposure. These extra funds can spare you from dipping into your emergency fund.
Use digital payment apps
Now that public payphones are no longer commonplace, paper money is one of the dirtiest items you can touch. Even if you keep the recommended 6 feet of separation between strangers in public, you can pass germs along by paying with cash.
Writing a paper check can be more sanitary, but you're still making a physical payment. Not every business accepts check payments forcing you to pay with cash, plastic, or your phone.
You can always pay with a credit card or debit card instead of cash or check as well.
Digital wallet apps like Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, or Apple Pay permit a germ-free transaction. Some stores let you pay with digital wallets. Third-party apps and most bank mobile apps let you send money to friends for free.
Banking apps also have a nifty feature to remote deposit paper checks. If your employer doesn't offer direct deposit, download the bank app. It takes about a minute to take a picture of the front and bank of your check using a smartphone.
Use home delivery apps
Businesses like grocery stores, supercenters, and pharmacies will remain open to provide constant supplies. In the Italian lockdown, a limited number of people can enter the store to maintain social distancing.
You might be able to avoid the long waiting lines and risking your health by using home delivery apps. Grocers and pharmacies provide home delivery in many cities. As long as delivery service is available, it's an option to consider. Plus, it helps a fellow community member earn income during these uncertain times.
Remember that some delivery services charge a service fee for the convenience. CVS Pharmacy is waiving the fee on home deliveries. Consider this option if you have an at-risk immune system and avoid public exposure under normal circumstances.
Order items online for home delivery
Similar to home delivery apps, online stores can be your best friend for buying essentials. As long as the postal service runs and FedEx or UPS continues operations, you can get items sent to your front door.
As many other people are placing online orders, these platforms may have trouble keeping items in stock. Once again, you're avoiding the general public and saving a trip to the store.
As the number of the novel coronavirus cases increases, hospitals and urgent care clinics are other places to avoid—unless you have an emergency. You may not be carrying the novel coronavirus but you may come in contact with someone in the waiting room who has an infection.
Medical centers may postpone elective procedures to allocate more resources and hospital beds for those needing urgent care. The most-affected hospitals in Italy are already running out of beds for patients.
As many businesses and schools are requiring telework, use telehealth platforms to speak with a doctor or nurse. A quick videoconference can be the remedy you need for non-emergency medical situations.
Your medical insurance provider may already offer telehealth as a way to save you money. These calls can also be cheaper than a visit to the doctor. Now you have an incentive to stay home and avoid unnecessary exposure to the novel coronavirus or another illness.
If you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of novel coronavirus or COVID-19 (the disease that novel coronavirus causes) don't go directly to the hospital for testing. Call the CDC hotline or a local hotline to get permission to visit a testing center. You reduce your exposure and reserve the testing kits for those who may feel worse than you.
Invest in yourself
When you have mobility and the financial means, it's easy to solve many of life's problems by calling a service provider.
Use this time to learn more about the various parts of your home and see if you can stretch those DIY muscles. You won't be able to do everything but you'd be surprised how much you can do.
One example is learning how to make your own cleaning supplies, as some may be out of stock in your local grocery store. Did you know you can make your own homemade hand sanitizer? If you need more ideas, search the internet or DIY platforms like Pinterest. The amount of creative ideas is astonishing.
Take advantage of free education resources to bulk up your knowledge in areas you feel weak in.
Not panicking during uncertain times can be tough. An event like the novel coronavirus is placing restrictions on our lifestyle that American society hasn't seen in living memory.
Having a financial plan in place is a good start. While each situation has many similarities, no event is identical. You will need to adapt to the current conditions. Stay in touch with your friends and family during these times. Mutual support can help your family and community persevere.
We don't know the full effects of this global pandemic yet. Implementing these steps can help bring some degree of normalcy until it passes. Continue practicing these recommendations so you are ready for life's next surprise.