It’s easy to feel helpless in times of extreme stress and upheaval. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic uncertainty, these are confusing times—even for those who are financially secure. Most people worry about dwindling retirement funds, some have lost their jobs or had hours cut, and at the same time, we’re all wondering what we can do to help the businesses that we count on during normal times.
Thankfully, there are a number of small things that people can do to feel more in control. The following actions can make a difference to your own bottom line (as well as your mental wellbeing), and can also serve to help the finances of someone you care about.
1. Buy Gift Cards from Local Businesses
Small businesses in particular count on local patrons to keep them afloat. And many of those small businesses are suffering now—those who have been forced to close or switch to a new model to keep up with current health guidelines.
An easy way to continue to support your favorite businesses is to keep ordering from them now if you can, as well as purchase gift cards for later. That way, you’ll be able to use those gift cards once things return to normal, and the business will have some much-needed cash flow during this strange time.
2. Shift Your Spending
No matter how much money you have in the bank, an emergency savings account is always important, especially during times like these. If you don’t have enough in yours (experts recommend three to six months worth of living expenses, at least), consider bulking it up.
One easy way to do that is to shift your entertainment dollars into savings. For example, whenever you catch yourself in a moment that you would normally be doing something else—like attending an event that was now refunded, or a normal date night that you’re now spending at home—take the money you would have spent on those activities and redirect those dollars to your emergency savings.
3. Unsubscribe from Sales Emails
Now that we’re all at home, it’s easier than ever to log online to do some retail therapy. While a little spending is fine, you’ll want to avoid breaking your budget just because you’re bored. Stores are doing their best to entice customers with deals right now, and when we’re sitting home with nothing else to do, all of those deals start to look pretty tempting.
Of course, you’re not alone: Consumers spent $601.75 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2019, up 14.9 percent from $523.64 billion the prior year. Continue to patronize your local small businesses, but consider unsubscribing from some emails to avoid overspending on things you were never planning to buy anyway.
4. Make Charitable Donations
If you have some extra funds right now, consider donating to some of the causes that can really make a difference. Some of the most vulnerable groups—including the homeless, elderly and impoverished—could use the help now more than ever.
Meals on Wheels is a well-regarded organization that delivers meals to homebound seniors. You might also consider contacting a local homeless shelter to see how you can help. On a smaller—but still impactful—scale, if you have elderly or immunocompromised neighbors, consider picking up some extra provisions the next time you’re at the store. Ask what they may need, or just pick up extra items like toilet paper, hand soap and hand sanitizer and leave a care package on their porch.
Hospitals are also in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE), so it’s worth calling your local hospital or checking out GetUsPPE.org to see how you can help.
5. Be Strategic with Your Stimulus Check
The government recently announced that many Americans will be receiving stimulus checks in the next few weeks. How much you’ll receive will depend on your income: individuals with adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 a year will be eligible for $1,200, and parents with kids under 17 will get an additional $500 per child.
If you need to use the money for the essentials—like rent, bills or food—then by all means, you should do that. If you haven’t had a loss of income, though, some other smart ways to use the money include padding your emergency savings, putting it toward your retirement account (because you should be continuing to contribute to your retirement accounts right now) or donating it in whole or part to some of the places listed above.
During uncertain times, one of the easiest ways to feel more in control is to do something proactive. Whether that means pulling in the reigns on your own spending or reaching out to help others in need, even one small action can make a big difference.