Service workers and those who have been unexpectedly laid off may not have the savings they need in a time like this, says a health-and-families agent for the extension service at West Virginia University.
Lauren Weatherford, who is working with families in Fayette and Nicholas counties in southern West Virginia, says many mountaineers are wondering how best to manage their finances and is offering tips and advice to help get people through thee unusual times.
Be proactive in managing finances.
“When it comes to managing your finances, it’s important to be proactive," Weatherford says. "Whether you’re seeking discounts, looking to reduce expenses or even pay a bill at all, it’s important to get out in front of it.
"Take the time to look online, look for specials and deals, compare pricing, but sometimes you need to contact the company directly. There may be discounts and packages available that you’re not aware of. Don’t be afraid to make the call and ask the questions. Things like auto pay, bundling can save a lot of money. In a pinch, you can use credit cards wisely, but make sure that you don’t forget that any time you add money to a credit card, it’s going to be debt that has to be addressed later.
"Sometimes relief programs can allow you to skip a payment, which buys you some time to get through. But, these also come at the cost that you will pay additional interest often, and you will also have to pay that payment at the end of the loan cycle. So just be aware. Always ask questions. Always make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you do it.”
Prioritize your expenses, but...
“Prioritizing your expenses is very important. But, there’s a very big difference between wants and needs," Weatherford says. "For instance, housing, food, utilities, transportation, and insurance can be critical to everyday life.
"But forms of entertainment—including internet and streaming services, expensive data plans, restaurants, clothing, beauty treatments, and other personal indulgences—may be optional. The first thing you want to do is make a list. Address what’s most important, then decide what you need to eliminate, reduce or find creative solutions to other optional expenses.”
Do your research.
“When it comes to managing your money, you want to do the research," she says. "It may be as simple as comparison shopping or looking for discounts, but another thing that is important is to make sure before you get into a financial agreement with someone, that you understand the consequences.
"What are the percentage rates? How long will it last? How long will you pay for this over time? It’s also important when looking at some of the new relief programs coming up, do these actually apply to you? Some of these programs may only apply in certain situations. So, you want to make sure you read about it and ask all of the right questions.”
Support small and local businesses.
“Support your small and local businesses," Weatherford advises. "These businesses are an important part of our local economy and can be some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. If you have the ability, please continue to support them where possible.
"Many restaurants are still offering take out options. You can pre-pay or purchase gift certificates for restaurants, shops, hairdressers and maybe even your local mechanic. Don’t hesitate to tell your local business how they can help serve you in this time of social distancing. You might just find that there are some creative solutions you haven’t thought of and it’s in both of your interests to find those options. Your small effort could make all the difference.”
“Don’t panic. Be financially thoughtful," she says. "In this time of social distancing, it can be very tempting to follow the crowd and make decisions such as panic shopping. Many products are often ordered and manufactured up to six months in advance, which means we have stock to replace.
"If you find that you need something or you would like to have something at home just in case, that’s okay. Things like medications, shelf-stable foods – go ahead purchase these for a week or two in advance, but know that chances are that they will be in the stores when you return.”