Do your finances and job feel up in the air? Read our insights from personal finances experts and professional coaches to help you make the right pragmatic choices – and restore calm
Many of us are discovering ways to calm our nerves every day during these difficult times. Perhaps you meditate, get in touch with loved ones, or walk the dog. Amid other anxieties, millions of us are concerned about our finances too. But there are ways to calm these worries. It makes sense to do this – a stressed mind is not good at decision-making.
1 Take control of your budget
Whether you have experienced financial disruption in your job or not, it is good to assess your budget.
“With your daily commute time gone, now is the perfect time to take a look at your finances,” says Justin Basini, chief executive and co-founder of credit report provider ClearScore.
He says it is an opportunity to put steps in place that help you save money during the coronavirus lockdown and develop some good habits for the future.
“Start with what worries you most,” says Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. In some cases, it is the thought of losing work and running out of money.
“By far the best way to deal with this is to spend some time working out what you have coming in each month and what you have going out,” she says.
There are budgeting tools you can use online. First of all, they will ask you to draw up a list of your fixed costs. Remember to include “things that are easy to forget, like insurance, household maintenance and birthday presents for other people”, says Coles. Rather than guessing what you are spending on each category, go through your online bank account and check the actual amounts.
2 Rethink your spending
Do you need to readjust your spending? If your income has taken a hit, reconsider your spending and create a temporary budget.
“Don’t just cut out the luxuries: you can save a fortune by shopping around for the essentials too,” says Coles.
“While most people are used to shopping around for energy providers, fewer people move their home insurance or credit card provider, but doing so means you could save yourself hundreds of pounds a year simply by taking 15 minutes to compare the best deals available for you,” says Basini.
If you are facing financial distress, you can get in touch with your utility providers, as many companies provide people with flexible arrangements at the moment.
“You can talk to your bank and you can actually freeze the interest, if you have a credit card balance,” says Lucy Mullins, a professional coach and co-founder at StepLadder, a collaborative deposit peer-to-peer saving platform. She adds that many gyms have already frozen members’ payments.
“If you have a mortgage that is linked to the interest rate, you will be paying less due to the interest rate cut,” says Basini. “Why not consider using these extra funds to save and build a rainy-day pot or to pay down any other debt you might have?”
3 Create a financial safety net
Putting money aside every month if you can will offer you financial safety no matter what happens.
If you are worried about the future of your job, keep an eye on the various government measures for employees and those who are self-employed.
Some people will be worried about the absolute worst-case scenario, of dying and leaving their family without their income, says Coles.
“In that case, it is worth checking what insurance you have in place, because it might be a pleasant surprise. If you have a mortgage, you should already have life insurance to pay that off. Most people also have cover through work, so ask HR about what is in place for you.”
4 Keep a level head about pensions and investments
Some people will have investments and pension funds that have taken a beating over the past months. Globally, stocks have suffered. In the UK, the FTSE 100 has plummeted to its lowest level since 2011. Companies have cut dividends.
Perhaps you have considered selling your investments. Do not let your emotions take over when it comes to the stock market. Amid all of this turmoil, it is crucial to remember that stock-market crashes have always happened. If history can serve as a guide, then what goes down must come up again.
Most economists agree that we are already in a global recession, even though the official data will only be known by the end of June. Provided that you are a long-term investor, your stocks should have a good chance to recover.
How long might it take? According to research from the Bank of America Securities, full recoveries from a bull market tend to take an average of 4.4 years. What is more, some of the biggest gains can be made in times of recovery.
However long it might be, it makes sense to continue your pension payments because you are investing at a time when stocks are cheaper. For those already retired, it is worth considering how much money you draw from your pension pot. If you are drawing the same level of income as before, it might be worth lowering the amount you take out and switching to savings instead so you avoid depleting your fund.
5 Future-proof your career
In addition to reconsidering your spending and building up a safety buffer, Mullins suggests that you look at the positive side and ask yourself: how can you be creative? How can you upskill yourself at this time? What other skills do you have that the world might need?
You might be at a crossroads. You might be thinking about the next step in your career. Or you might want to switch from employment to self-employment or vice versa. Either way, it is a good time to consider your skill set and think about new skills you would like to gain.
“Every initial discussion that I have with a client is around what their skills are,” says Alyson Ainsworth, executive coach and career consultant at 10Eighty, an HR consultancy. “Amazingly, it is something people find really difficult to define. So what I say to them is, think about your achievements. What are you proud of? I prefer to think about skills in terms of our strengths.”
Ainsworth says the difference between a skill and a strength is that a skill can be developed, while a strength is something more intuitive. “So really, it’s something that gives you energy,” she says. “Not only are these the things that you’re good at, but they’re also the things that motivate you.”
Your strengths guide your motivation – they reveal what is important to you. “I’m a massive believer in playing to your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses,” she says.
6 Identify your strengths and opportunities
If we look at the job market, as a buyers’ and sellers’ market, says Ainsworth, your future employer needs to understand what they are buying.
“You are selling your skills, somebody is buying them, so you need to identify them. What is your unique skill set? I say to people, if you don’t know what your top three skills are, you are probably not market ready.”
She says there are three areas of skill: technical/functional expertise, industry/sector-specific expertise, and a kind of knowledge that is linked to your character and traits. Your skill set is a blend of these elements. And it is the first and third category that are most transferable.
One way to pinpoint your skills it to look at your past appraisals. Alternatively, you can take online tests. But Ainsworth recommends asking people around you what they think your top skills are.
Not only does it build confidence in your own abilities – because people often confirm what you already think your strengths are – but, she says “people often put it in such a nice way, and it gives you such a good, warm feeling – it is a really nice exercise to do”.
Paying attention to your strengths and skills, and imagining your own resilience in times of crisis, can help you weather the current circumstances. Many of us have seen our financial fortunes change in the past, so it helps to identify what strengths have helped us cope before.
Focusing on what your skills are can also help you come up with creative solutions.
“Anxiety is, of course, just a form of energy, and you can convert it into something helpful,” says Mullins. “Another question that some people struggle with, but others find really useful is: what new opportunities will exist for me in the new world, when we are allowed out?”