As the coronavirus spreads across the US, most of our lives have come to a halt. Some Americans are already out of work and millions may end up losing their jobs during a potential recession, says CNBC in the article “Financial planner: Here’s when you should temporarily stop saving for retirement during the pandemic.” What’s the best course of action for these uncertain times?
Financial advisors typically set a goal of a small portion of household income, usually 10-15%, to be set aside for retirement. Based on your situation, now might be a time to scale that back or stop contributing to retirement accounts, if you don’t have cash savings to fall back on in the short term.
If you don’t have three to six months of emergency funds available—which most Americans do not—then now is one of the only times that the financial professionals are advising putting a temporary halt on contributing to retirement accounts.
What to do with that money? Take the money you would normally be putting aside for retirement and put it in an account for emergencies, if you are able to do so. This is not an ideal time, but hopefully it is a short-term change. Make a commitment to yourself and your retirement to start contributing once you are back on normal financial footing.
Having an emergency fund right now is critical. Legislation to help is being passed, but how much help will be available for individuals, and when it will be available, is anyone’s guess. If you or the family’s main breadwinner becomes ill and can’t work, or if your job is among those lost because of the coronavirus, having a cash cushion of any kind will be important.
Every news cycle brings more things to worry about, so having an emergency fund also can provide some peace of mind. When we are worried on a chronic basis about paying for unexpected expenses, the stress can take a toll on our physical well-being.
In addition to moving retirement funds to an emergency fund, now is the time to back off of non-essentials, like subscriptions or memberships that are not being used. Make a list of everything you are paying for that is not essential—recognizing what you and your family really need, versus what you want—and send those savings to your emergency fund. The cuts may be temporary, but they will add up faster than you expect.
The charges you are not adding to credit cards now for things like dining out, going to the movies, etc., may start showing up as smaller credit card bills. However, don’t rush to spend any discretionary income. Rather than apply that money somewhere else, like increased online shopping because you are bored, also put that extra money into your emergency fund.
These are unprecedented times, when the margin for careless spending has become very slim. Be proactive about protecting your financial well-being, so you are able to weather this storm.
Reference: CNBC (March 18, 2020) “Financial planner: Here’s when you should temporarily stop saving for retirement during the pandemic”