Finding Your Path to Post-Pandemic Financial Recovery
The biggest pandemic in a century caused a financial crisis for many people. In fact, the latest data from Brown and Harvard University shows middle income earners in Georgia who make between $27,000 and $60,000 are just starting to get back on their feet. But people who earn less than $27,000 are still struggling.
So, how can you climb out of this economic crisis? Michelle Singletary provided some tips on GPB’s Morning Edition. Michelle writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column The Color of Money, which appears in The Washington Post. She is also author of a new book called What to Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits.
Leah Fleming: In your new book, you say it's not a matter of if another economic downturn is going to happen, but when. So, what steps should we take to recover from this past year and how do we disaster-proof our finances moving forward?
Michelle Singletary: So, if you lost your job or your income decreased, you're going to be doing something a little different, and that's you're going to be in recovery mode. So you're not going to be going back out there spending; of course you can't. You're going to be sort of trying to rebuild your credit, perhaps; find money to catch up on bills. If you didn't lose your job, you might actually want to continue to do what you were doing, which is paying down debt or trying to boost your savings account.
Leah Fleming: For people who did actually lose their positions, who suddenly found themselves struggling ... How do people on that track begin to put things back together?
Michelle Singletary: It actually starts with getting back on track emotionally, because when you've lost so much — you've lost your job. You fall back on your rent, on your mortgage, you're like, devastated. And sometimes that makes you not do anything. You just get paralyzed. And so just forgive yourself. Don't worry about the fact that you got behind, especially if it wasn't your fault. If you got behind on your bills, don't overpromise to pay what you don't have. Maybe they only can afford to catch up by $50, let's say, on a credit card bill, but they are pushed or encouraged to say do $100 or $200, which they just can't do. So only do what you can afford.
Leah Fleming: And you know, that's so important. I'm glad you address that, because I think for many people who go through difficult times financially, there's that feeling of shame.
Michelle Singletary: There's a lot of shame and we do a lot of shaming in the U.S. I mean, even those people who are on unemployment benefits, people were like, “Oh, they don't want to work. They just want to collect government benefits.” I think it was completely unfair and it's not accurate. People want to work. Most people want to work, and everyone knows that those unemployment benefits end. And so what you do is you gotta come up with a plan. So you've been on these benefits, and now they're ending. So, what job can you take? And then you have to triage your bills. And what I mean is that you only pay those that are critical and the credit card bills and student loan debts and things just have to wait because they're not critical to sustaining your life.
Leah Fleming: For other people, they did manage to keep their jobs and their money situation stayed pretty stable. And that brings me to the stock market. I know that can be a major money generator. What tips do you have for those who may be new to investing or who have been investing? Is cryptocurrency something to get into? What should we be thinking?
Michelle Singletary: Oh, that's a good question. So, the answer to that last question is "No!" Not unless you like gambling. And really, investing is boring. And so all those stories you see about the hot stocks and cryptocurrency, those are for gamblers. Those are for speculators, experienced people or folks who just want to risk all their money. You don't need to do that to get good returns, which is what you should strive for: to have financial security for the future. I have a great portfolio. I have no cryptocurrency, nothing crazy. I don't even have individual stocks. Low-cost growth index funds will do you just fine.
Leah Fleming: And then, finally, I want to ask you about buying a home. Home prices in cities like Atlanta and Savannah, there has been a surge in that. And so is now the time for perhaps people interested in buying a home to jump in for the best price?
Michelle Singletary: Yeah. So, you know, the home market — people have lost their everlasting minds. I mean, you know, I mean, as if there's never going to be another house to buy. I mean, they are overpaying. They're foregoing inspections. And that is so dangerous. I mean, we saw that during the Great Recession, right? People just went in, paid whatever the sellers were asking for and getting into these bidding wars. And what ends up happening is you commit too much of your monthly net income to your housing, and that is going to impact your ability to save, pay down debt, and even send your kids to college — if so much of your income is devoted to your mortgage. And so what people ask me now, “Shouldn't I buy now? You know, interest rates are low. Oh, my gosh. I'm never going to…” You know, listen. Interest rates are going to be low for a while. You should buy a house when it's right for you. And there are some studies showing that people who bought in a rush or felt pressured, because they wanted to take advantage of low interest rates, are now regretting that because their income is devoted to a mortgage.