4 Ways to Rebuild Your Savings Post-pandemic
From pencil and paper to phone apps, you can work your way back
By Cullen Koger | July 6, 2020
Chances are, in some form or fashion, you’ve experienced an unexpected financial strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe it’s a loss of a job, a furlough or a significant drop in your household income. Whatever the case, your hand may have been forced, demanding you resort to alternative resources beyond government assistance. Namely, your savings.
It’s time to consider how to work yourself back to the other side of the equation. While some of these steps might seem simply organizational, they’re total power moves, helping you reassert a measure of control in uncertain times.
1. Get your budget out of your head.
“Take the time to revisit your budget numbers,” said Brandy Marion, institutional wealth education and training manager at BOK Financial. “For most people, their budget is in their head. A loose collection of general ideas. Start by putting it to paper or utilizing a budgeting app. But put the numbers down in front of you.”
There’s truth to the old adage that knowledge is power. Certainly, it can be an anxious endeavor to actually put those numbers in black and white, but by doing so, it takes the guesswork out of budget planning, leading to better informed financial decisions.
“Track your budget for at least a month,” Marion continued. “Then you can go back and see where you can make changes to your budget that make the most sense and impact.”
You may find that you’ve been saving money by simply not spending money the last few months. Or, you’ve consciously cut the cord with your cable provider or cancelled a service like lawn care maintenance. That money can now be reallocated toward savings.
2. Yes, apps can help.
Once you get your bearings, don’t let your budget slide back into those nebulous recesses of your brain. Continue to track and monitor your monthly budget closely, so you know down to the penny what you’re spending and saving.
“There are so many great apps and online tools out there that can help you manage your budget,” said Marion. “Use technology to your advantage.”
A variety of websites provide budgeting tools, loan and credit card marketplace opportunities, subscription cancellations, and bill payment negotiations. Among them: mint.com, truebill.com and hifiona.com.
3. Find ways to reduce debt.
Another benefit to tackling your budget is to identify areas where you can reduce debt. Most everyone carries debt, both good and bad. Identifying your debt load and finding ways to pay it down will also help inform your savings strategy.
“Right now is a great time to consider debt reduction,” Marion said. “Interest rates are extremely low. If you own a home or have a personal loan, taking advantage of refinancing opportunities is key.”
“Same goes with credit card debt,” she continued. “It's worth taking the time to get on the phone and renegotiate your interest rate to a lower rate.”
There are two popular ways to reduce debt: debt avalanche or debt snowball. The first suggests tackling the debt with the highest interest rate. Oftentimes, these also have the highest payoff amount. The latter encourages you to pay off the lowest total amount first, giving you a taste of victory that will hopefully inspire you to take on the next debt amount.
While either method works, select one based on your personal preference and stick with it.
While paying off debt can appear to be a daunting task, setting small goals will help keep you on track without feeling overwhelmed. The money you save either through renegotiating rates or paying off debt can then be reallocated to savings.
4. Pay yourself first.
A recent GOBankingRates study revealed that roughly 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. This is concerning but correctable.
“When you receive any kind of income, the very first thing you should do is pay yourself,” Marion recommends.
This emergency fund looks different for every individual or family. It may be a traditional savings account at a financial institution or a money market account, which has potential to provide more return on your money.
You can also set up accounts for strategic allocation funds, like planning for a wedding or a family vacation. Name each of them what they are, so there’s no confusion. Don’t commingle the money.
“Again, especially when we talk about emergency funds, just start small, get in the habit of setting money aside,” Marion said. “Start with $250. Then, try to add $25 per month. Make it automatic so you don't have a chance to spend it another way.”
“There will be a point where that account will grow and you’ll want to funnel some of it toward your long-term savings strategy, but for now, get it started and commit to it.”
And finally...some homework
One final thought: Go online and search your state Treasury Department for lost or “orphaned” money. It’s relatively common for people to forget about their 401(k) when they quit a job and move on. Taking the time to look for forgotten money might actually yield a decent return.
“It’s like looking between the couch cushions, but on a bigger scale,” said Marion.