I wrote a post — a fairly substantive one — which was a diatribe about everything going wrong. But it was too much ranting, even for me.
So I’ll just briefly say…
The pandemic continues. Deaths are at 202,409 as of Sunday morning, and I have to assume that the ill-advised-but-probably-inevitable upcoming holiday travel is going to cause another spike.
It seems Congress can’t compromise on either side. Which means that the government may well shutdown in October — oh, yay, more people without paychecks! — and people living on bare bones unemployment aren’t going to get any extra money in the near future to help them stay afloat.
Of course, there’s the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, which probably spells the end of the Affordable Care Act. That more or less dooms people with pre-existing conditions to no coverage.
Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic, I’ll remind you that Tim was turned down for insurance pre-ACA because he’d had MRSA at least three times in two years. And for those of you who aren’t aware, MRSA is incredibly easy to get multiple times. If nothing else, it’s good at lingering on surfaces. So you might finish up that antibiotic and then reinfect yourself on your couch.
Plus RBG’s death means that those pesky women’s and gay rights will likely now be in danger as well.
We have at least one elected official who doesn’t know that we’ve actually made changes to the Constitution. Twenty seven times, if you want to be nitpicky. And 12 of them were within the first 25 years of writing the damn thing. So even the Founding Fathers realized it could use some tweaking.
There’s been no substantive police reform in many cities, and the ones that have announced changes mainly feel like they’re paying lip service.
Oh and, uh, the country is literally on fire. Which seems both fitting and just a bit too on the nose.
So yeah, everything just seems… awful.
Okay, not everything. For example, I’m still doing well financially. And I might — might — even have a good line on a guy to see. (Which would be a welcome relief from dating-app guy awfulness.)
So honestly, I actually feel slightly guilty about the fact that I’m still doing well. Though if this recession lasts too long and/or turns into a depression, we’ll see how well my job fares. So there’s that abstract stress.
But a lot of Americans’ present is awful and terrifying and stressful.
So I just don’t know what I can possibly say about finance right now that has much impact.
Probably-unhelpful advice: Part 1
I could tell people to be frugal. Tighten their belts. Brace for impact. Yada yada.
But I’m pretty sure people who are back to bare bones unemployment (since, again, Congress can’t get its act together), aren’t going on spending sprees. You know, since the national average benefit is $378 a week and the median one-bedroom rent is $1,216.
I mean, here are some ways to to find a probably-cheaper cell phone plan and to save on utilities. And by the way, if you’re unemployed, make sure you’re asking your utilities companies and the city about assistance programs. You might not have qualified while the bonus was in place, but now you probably do.
But that’s about all I’ve got that feels helpful. I can’t seem to focus in on any one topic at present. (If you have one you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments.)
Probably-unhelpful advice: Part 2
Or maybe I’m supposed to once again preach about saving an emergency fund.
Well, I’m gonna refer you back to the unemployment benefit/rent numbers above. If you can barely pay rent, how do you save for the future?
Yeah, most people should have had savings. But telling them that now doesn’t help. It shames them, which could make it even harder for them to think clearly and pinch pennies now.
Besides, a lot of people don’t make enough to save — or to save much. And even for people who did save, they were told they only needed to save three to six months’ worth of expenses. We’re in the sixth month of this crap and there’s no end in sight.
So okay, if you have a job, yes please please please start or add to an emergency fund if you have fewer than six months’ worth of your emergency budget. (Side note: Figure out your emergency budget.)
Actually, make that a year’s worth. I fully expect this incipient recession to turn into a full-fledged economic depression. Which means it won’t be over at any time soon. And very few jobs are completely secure.
Super unhelpful advice
Or maybe this is when I remind people about the power of compound interest — aka “Save for retirement, people!”
Yeah, right at this moment I’m not really comfortable telling folks to fully fund their 401(k)s if they can barely pay bills. Heck, they may have been fired from the job that supplied that option. Or maybe never even had a 401(k) at their job. I’ll once again refer you to this post about how a lot of the workforce is in low-paying jobs without that benefit.
Besides, if their jobs aren’t secure, they shouldn’t be throwing everything into retirement — unless they have the aforementioned one-year emergency fund already in place.
So okay, yeah, if you’re still employed and you either have a very well-funded emergency fund or your job is utterly secure, then sock away that retirement moolah like crazy. Don’t forget to also open and max out an IRA/Roth IRA if you have the spare funds.
But if you don’t meet all the criteria, maybe now isn’t the time to worry about 70-year-old you. Maybe make sure you’ll still have a roof over your head a few months from now.
My one piece of good advice
So the only truly good, useful tip I’ve got is this: Get mental health help. Even if you’re broke. (More on that in the next section.)
A lot of people who’ve never dealt with depression or anxiety have been bewildered and at a loss for the last few months. They are and have been struggling. Some have found an equilibrium, but honestly I think too many are probably just compartmentalizing to get by.
And let’s not forget that Seasonal Affective Disorder is right around the corner, so things may reach a crescendo, even for people who’ve successfully tamped the negative feelings down.
Obviously, you should want to work on your mental health overall. Because being happy and well-adjusted is, uh, good. But even if that doesn’t seem like a priority right now — even if you’re just trying to get by — from a purely practical standpoint you still need to take care of your emotions.
The thing is, it’s incredibly difficult to keep up on with work and finances — or even just day-to-day life maintenance — if you’re struggling with depression and/or anxiety. And once you start falling behind on that, life gets exponentially harder, which worsens depression and anxiety, which makes things harder and… Well, you get the picture.
So if you don’t take care of your mental health because you feel like you’re too busy juggling everything else, well if you ignore anxiety/depression pretty soon you may not be able to juggle anything. And once you get that far down, it’s a hard, uphill slog back to normalcy. Which none of us can really have the time for right now.
We have to be/stay functional now. Which means we could probably use some help coping with these changes. If nothing else, with the added stress of a potentially deadly virus, unemployment, overseeing kids’ virtual school, entertaining kids because of closed daycares, etc.
So if you’re already in therapy, make sure you’re seeing your provider enough. If you can afford to see him/her more, consider increasing frequency prophylactically.
If you’re not in therapy, check with your insurance to see what options you have. It may take some calling around to find therapists who can take on new clients — unsurprisingly, their schedules are busier than usual right now — but it’s worth the hassle if you need the help.
Sliding scale therapy
If you don’t have insurance or have extremely high copays, look for sliding scale options. Some therapists offer a price break depending on the client’s finances. OpenCounseling.com offers resources to find therapists who offer sliding scale treatment.
Another option is to check with any colleges nearby that have graduate degrees in psychology/social work. Master’s and PhD students have to get a certain number of hours in before they can practice on their own, thus they work with clinics to offer sliding scale therapy. When I was very broke, I had $5 sessions, so they really will work with you.
And in case the idea of student therapists makes you nervous, remember that these are people who have all the same schooling as a practicing therapist. Plus they’re overseen by a supervisor to ensure you’re getting quality care.
211.org may also know of sliding scale therapy options.
BetterHelp — a telehealth company — charges $80-100 per week, which admittedly isn’t cheap (so definitely checking out the other resources) but is less than most therapists’ usual fees. So it’s a good last-ditch option if you don’t have access to sliding-scale options.
And failing all that, there are actual mental health apps. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reviewed a number of them here. The reviewers had degrees in psychology, social work, medicine and counseling. That said, I don’t know anything about the ADAA, so I can’t vouch for it.
All in all
Honestly, I just don’t know how much more of an emotional beating I can take. Do any of us?
Even those of us still in good financial situations may be worried about our job security in the future.
There’s a highly transmissible, potentially deadly virus with unknown long-term effects that’s floating around, and yet too many are still debating the need for social distancing and masks. Even though more than 202,400 Americans have died in just six months.
And everyone seems to pretty much agree that economically the worst is probably still to come.
Honestly, we all joke about surviving 2020, but I don’t see how 2021 is going to be much different. At least the first six to nine months of it.
See, I’m bracing myself for this pandemic lasting through the end of next summer. I pray I’m wrong, but if I pin my hopes on it ending any sooner and things still haven’t resolved by then… Well, I’ll absolutely crumble.
So I’m assuming a lot of this awfulness is still going to be around — if, hopefully, wrapping up — 10 to 11 months from now. And I will thoroughly celebrate if I’m wrong.
All of which is to say, we’re probably all hanging on by a thread, so let’s not count on anything magically getting better in the near future. Instead, just try to keep on keepin’ on.
Try to do your best money-wise. Even those of us who are still employed may have uncertain futures — even if it’s just in our retirement portfolios.
So if you’re not currently able to save much, trim expenses when possible. And if you’re struggling just to stay afloat financially, check out the resources in the posts I linked to. And let me know if there’s a specific topic you’d like to see frugality tips for.
Meanwhile, if you’re not happy with how this country is going, request a mail-in ballot ASAP — and drop it off in person, don’t mail it. Plus maybe email/call your legislators.
And don’t forget to take care of your mental health as best you can. Because I want to see everyone still here and functional when this pandemic finally is over.
So… How’s everyone doing?