By David Femi, Administrative Vice President, Multicultural Banking Segment Head, M&T Bank
This pandemic has brought enormous challenges that have tested all of us. It has threatened our health, and it has deepened financial hardships for communities that were already struggling or just scraping by.
Before the outbreak, one survey found 74 percent of workers were living paycheck to paycheck. Since then, millions have been laid off or furloughed. In just two months, over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.
The job losses seem to have hit families with lower incomes the hardest. About 40 percent of people with household incomes under $40,000 reported losing a job in a recent Federal Reserve study.
Now more than ever, our financial situations require our attention. Just like we can protect our physical health from the coronavirus by practicing social distancing, wearing facemasks and thoroughly washing our hands, we can protect our financial health by making smart money moves. Our team at M&T Bank wanted to share a few ideas to help you get started.
The time to understand your budget is now. Calculate how much money you have coming in, and then prioritize your expenses. Housing, food, utilities and insurance are essential to everyday life, but some forms of entertainment, including streaming services, certain clothing or beauty items and other indulgences may be optional. Make a list of your expenses and underline what’s most important, then decide what you can reduce or eliminate. Many financial institutions have online and mobile solutions with built-in money management tools that make organizing and visualizing budgets easier.
Don’t avoid creditors. Let your credit card company and service providers know about your financial situation if it’s affecting your ability to pay. Many are waiving late fees or putting brief holds on monthly payments. If you can hold off on a mortgage or car loan, likely two of the biggest items you have in your budget, that will allow you to focus on day-to-day essentials such as groceries. Also, consider debt consolidation. Interest rates are low – use that to your advantage.
If you’re still getting a paycheck, try reprioritizing your spending. With many businesses shut down, can you redirect some of your usual expenses to a savings account? Consider putting money that you would have otherwise spent on transportation, the gym or entertainment into padding your savings as much as possible to prepare for the next emergency. Try to save four to six months of your typical household expenses.
Ask your bank or credit union what other resources are available to you during these trying times. From helpful guidance to personal loans or payment flexibility, financial institutions can help you navigate economic hardships. While many bank branches are open by appointment only and others are temporarily closed, every bank is still open to help in some way. You can find contact information on their website, through their mobile app, or on a recent bank statement.
If you have the ability, support your neighborhood small businesses and buy local when possible. Helping small businesses survive will help our local economy recover faster. Many restaurants are still offering take out options. You can also pre-pay or purchase gift certificates for restaurants, shops, hairdressers and maybe even your local mechanic. Your small effort could make a big difference.
If there has been any silver lining during this crisis, it has been how people have come together to support each other and help neighbors in need. We are all in this together.
We should approach our financial health in the same way. Reach out for help if you need it, and let’s work together to plot out the right money moves to get through these tough times.
David Femi leads M&T Bank’s Multicultural Banking Team, which assists the company in serving multicultural and diverse communities in new and different ways that are designed to help individuals, families and businesses overcome obstacles and achieve their financial goals.