Wednesday, May 12

Financial Quarantine Tips: Things to Spend Money On (And What Can Wait)

The coronavirus known as COVID-19 is causing a pandemic, and in response, a general lockdown is in effect, with millions of Americans quarantined and numerous businesses closed to protect public health. While medical supplies and hospitals are under strain, the healthcare system is doing all it can to help the sick, and in the meantime, working Americans (including you) should remember that it’s not just health being affected right now; it’s also finances. While the general American economy and Wall Street are beyond the control of everyday Americans like yourself, you can and should keep an eye on your spending and make sure you don’t sink deep into debt or get any property repossessed. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting some households harder than others, but in general, the following are solid tips to protect your health and wallet alike. There are some things you should do… and some you certainly must refrain from.

Do: Make Spreadsheets

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This is something that working Americans ought to do anyway, and if you do not already keep logs of your spending and income, there has never been a better time to start. You begin by accounting for all income to your household, including wages and salaries, those of your spouse/partner, and passive income such as investments or rent collections (such as if you own rental property). Next, you are going to add up all of your expenses and bills, big and small, in all categories. Doing this will make it clear how much you are saving or how far behind you are falling, and the results on paper might surprise you. Many Americans are spending more than they realize since many small things can add up over time. Your cable bill, magazine subscriptions, dining out, recreational shopping, visits to the coffee shop, and more can accumulate a great deal and sabotage your bottom line. But making a log of all this will quickly diagnose any bad spending habits you may have, and you can determine how to start cutting back.

Most likely, you’re not going to any restaurants, and it’s easy to cut out coffee and fast food for now, too. Better yet, these new spending habits of yours don’t just have to last during the quarantine; you can continue your new, smarter spending habits after the crisis, too, and you can get a self-esteem boost with your newfound frugality and money-saving efforts. In time, you can rewire your mental process so you feel good about saving money rather than spending it on recreation constantly.

Don’t: Get Cosmetic Surgery

Health is an even bigger concern than ever right now, and you are urged to keep on top of your health, whether you come down with COVID-19 or not. As of April 25, 2020, some 928,619 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed across the United States, and even if you’re not among them, protecting your health is vital. But don’t count plastic surgery as a part of that.

Cosmetic surgery may involve scalpels and a clinic, but this is not the right reason to see health professionals right now. It’s just that: cosmetic surgery. For the most part, it doesn’t actually make you healthier, and it’s a bad way to spend your money right now. Examples range from FUE (follicular unit extraction) hair work to having cauliflower ear fixed to getting a nose job or Botox injections. All these can boost a person’s self-image and social standing, but that is more like an indulgence right now, and most likely, you don’t have room in your budget for that. And even if you do, it is better to save that money for more essential health spending, such as supplements and diabetes treatment. There is nothing wrong with wanting your body to look its best. But for now, that has to wait, and getting an FUE transplant won’t make you safer from any virus.

Do: Keep Track of Basic Health

By contrast, it is important that you continue to purchase and use your vital supplements, pills, and other medicine as directed. The threat of COVID-19 is bad enough; getting a crippling vitamin deficiency due to cutting supplement spending is even worse. In short, make sure you allocate money for your routine medicine, such as asthma inhalers or diabetes treatment. If money is tight for that, consult your doctor and explain your situation to him or her for a safe and practical plan for your daily health. Your particular health needs and diet will be unique, and can’t be predicted here. But your doctor will know what to do.

What about dentists? Does dental work get a slot in your budget? For the most part, it certainly does. Most Americans care a great deal about their dental health since healthy teeth make for easy eating and speech (and bad teeth are nearly always considered embarrassing and ugly). Starting at age two, all Americans should regularly see their dentist, and that continues even in this health crisis. Watching out for COVID-19 will feel worse when you have a toothache or bleeding gums on top of everything else.

But prepare for some alternations. Most likely, your dentist (among others) will have reduced and adjusted hours of operation, which will affect upcoming appointments. So, call your dentist and double-check that, and reschedule as needed. And when you do visit for dental work, try to arrive right on time for your appointment, so you don’t spend any time lingering in the waiting room. With any luck, the other regular patients will do something similar, which can help minimize exposure to each other. If you are ill (whether with COVID-19 or anything else), refrain from visiting the dentist until you recover. But if you suffer a dental emergency that needs urgent care, visit the dentist anyway. You don’t need to lose a few teeth because of a pandemic.

Don’t: Hire Remodeling Contractors

This is a topic that concerns homeowners and rental property owners. Do you own your home? If you do, you may have future plans to get some kitchen remodeling work done, or have the master bathroom or even the basement remodeled and refreshed. Right now, though, this is an extravagance that you almost certainly cannot afford (similar to cosmetic surgery). And even if you do have the cash for this, you’ll be set back tens of thousands of dollars, which is a significant risk. Ordinarily, getting your home remodeled is a smart investment, since the refreshed house not only looks really good but gives the property more appeal on the housing market when you put it up for sale. In fact, remodeling popular rooms like the kitchen and master bathroom can yield an ROI (return of investment) close to 70-80%, but right now, not even those strong numbers can justify such an expense. If you were planning on selling your current home and moving out, this plan is probably being put on hold, and if you must sell your property, you might end up doing it without any renovations being done.

Do: Well Maintenance and Septic Work

Not all American properties include a well, but some rural ones do, and it can be safely said that well maintenance is a worthwhile expense. Remodeling your home or having a backyard pool installed is risky right now, but that cash can go toward maintaining your current hardware, such as wells. If your well water becomes compromised with harmful chemicals or organic agents, that could spell serious trouble, and it’s worth the money to hire crews to inspect and (if necessary) clean up that water and treat it. The well can also be fixed to prevent any leaks or other issues.

Septic systems are a related concept that is also worth the money. While most homes are connected to public water and sewage utilities, remote and rural properties tend to make use of not just water wells, but septic systems. These are self-contained sewage treatment systems that can collect all of the house’s dirty, used water and convert it into clean water that is returned directly to the natural ground, and while this system operates on its own, it does need a routine cleaning, fixing, and inspections. For one thing, the septic tank will experience a gradual buildup of thick sludge at the bottom, and the only way to remove it is by hiring crews who unearth the tank and pump up that noxious waste. This is absolutely worth your money even during this crisis, and the same is true for getting your tank fixed or replaced if you believe it’s starting to leak. The system’s filters and pipes might also have blockages or leaks in them, and these need to be taken care of, too.

Don’t: Install an Electric Solar System

More specifically, “solar system” can refer to any collection of solar panels that provide power for one or more structures. This is a green and sustainable energy source that can pay for itself over time, and in recent years, it has become highly viable economically, and the technology is spreading rapidly. Businesses, neighborhoods, and individual houses are having them installed, but now may not be the time for that. True, a solar panel array on your roof will pay for itself over time, but there may be a hefty up-front cost, and like home remodeling, this is a risky investment. Put simply, it’s a better idea to save solar panel options for after the quarantine, when the economy and your personal finances are more stable. If you live in an area with weak and inconsistent sunlight, solar panels are probably a bad investment even in the best of circumstances anyway.

Do: Spend on Maintenance and Supplies

It is worth your money to have your well and septic tank fixed, should you have them, and your home needs basic work, too. Home remodeling is not necessary for everyday living, but roof maintenance and HVAC repair certainly are, and your house may suffer damage and leak money so long as its maintenance problems persist. What’s wrong with a leaky roof? Intruding water will warp and rot the wood in your attic, spur harmful mold growth, stain your drywall, short out electrical components in the walls, and pool on the floor. All of this can cost you extra, on top of roof repair, if the problem persists long enough. So, conduct regular roof inspections and check for signs of leaking water, and hire roof contractors to fix up your roof if need be. They can remove and replace damaged tiles, pour liquid rubber to seal cracks and holes, and even remove invasive squirrels from your attic.

Don’t forget basic household supplies, too, such as kitchen equipment and cleaning supplies to keep the house sanitary. It’s probably not necessary to outright hoard anything (and this denies other people the products they need), but then again, make sure your household inventory is in good shape.

Don’t: Buy Fancy Vehicles

By now, a clear trend is emerging. There are two major ways to spend money: on things you need, and on things you like. Under ordinary circumstances, you can balance them, but during quarantine, necessary spending vastly outweighs recreational spending. Another unwise use of money right now is to buy a brand new car, RV, ATV, motorcycle, or boat. Even if you have good credit and always wanted one of these vehicles, such an expense could jeopardize your capacity to handle a sudden health emergency. If your current car or motorcycle is enough to get to work and to healthcare providers and the grocery store, that should suffice, and a brand new Mustang or Mercedes-Benz is quite excessive right now. Monthly payments on one of these will be one thing too many on your list of monthly expenses.

Do: Spend on Vehicle Maintenance

Buying a cool sports car isn’t a good idea right now, but instead, you can and should spend money maintaining your current vehicle. Pinching pennies on your car can really sabotage you, since you may end up stranded if your car breaks down, and you’ll spend a lot anyway to have it towed to a repair shop and fixed up. So, invest in your current vehicle, from refilling brake fluid to tire rotation, and make sure it can reliably take you anyway. This doesn’t include the likes of fancy rims or body lights or stylish new paint, but pampering your car’s engine and transmission is a good call.

Overall, it can be said that your spending should go toward making your life functional, instead of making it glamorous. Social media often tempts you to “keep up with appearances” and have the latest word in cars, cosmetic surgery, and vacations, but all that has been put on hold for now, and spending money defensively on health, rent/mortgages, and car maintenance is mundane but vital. Track your spending, suspend your extravagances, and keep the core of your life running, and you can weather the COVID-19 pandemic with hardly a scratch.

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