Budget Friendly Activities During COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has changed the way we live dramatically. As COVID-19 spreads around the world, social distancing has been appointed as one of the ways we can contribute to flattening the pandemic curve. That means that by staying home, we can help slow the spread of the virus.

Although many countries have not yet ordered official lockdowns, many people are choosing to stay home to protect themselves and others. As reclusion and social distancing over the long haul can be distressing and overwhelming, finding ways to remain calm and maintain your well-being will be extremely important to get through these times. In this article, we will share budget-friendly activities ideas to do at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use Technology Wisely

According to Scientific American, it is not about how much we use social media platforms, but how we use them, as “we can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now.” There are many cool ways that people around the world are able to stay connected with the outside world because of technology.

Join an Online Concert or Music Festival

All over the world, many artists are starting to perform live for free through their social media accounts and online. If you’re looking for shows that you might be interested in, you can always check out the social media profiles of your favorite artists to see if free online concerts are available to you. Billboard is also keeping a comprehensive list of live streams and virtual concerts that are happening, along with the dates that they will take place.

Similarly, in countries like Portugal and Brazil, local artists are getting organized to perform live in online festivals. You can even check out festival lineups on each festivals’ profile to know how to join the free show.

Attend Virtual Parties and Happy Hours

Many apps facilitate face-to-face interactions online. Skype, Zoom, House Party and FaceTime are a few examples of platforms you can use to meet your friends for free, sometimes even with more than one person at a time. You can also use Eventbrite to browse upcoming online events.

Co-Watch Content

There are many free apps and browser extensions that allow you to watch movies and shows with your friends and family remotely. These services allow you to synchronize video playback from your preferred streaming platform. Some free examples are Netflix Party, Kast (previous Rabbit), Scener, and Rave.

Learn Something New

The internet is full of online courses that can fit your budget. Whether you want to learn a new language, learn how to cook, or learn how to play an instrument; whatever your topic of interest is, there are many free classes on the internet.

One great idea is to look for people on your network who can virtually teach you. Independent professionals such as musicians, artists, and physical education teachers, for example, along with other entrepreneurs and small local businesses, will need all the support they can get.

Watch Live Streams of Famous Attractions and Attend Virtual Tours

With the internet, you can see the koalas of San Diego’s Zoo, or scope out Scotland’s famous Loch Ness, or visit the Sistine Chapel for free and from the comfort of your home. Good housekeeping has even provided a list of museums, zoos and other sites offering virtual tours and live or recorded images for free.

Go Offline

While the internet provides an infinite amount of possibilities to stay busy and entertained at home, let’s not forget the other many activities you can do outside of your computers.

Hang Out With Who You Live With

Sit down and catch up on each other’s lives. You can also listen to music, cook, play games, watch a movie, or do a puzzle together. The list of things to do together is endless.

Take Care of Yourself

Treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure, do a facial mask, try auto massage, catch up on sleep, and take the time to meditate. You don’t need to go online for that—you can simply rest quietly and focus on your breathing.

Exercise Often

There is news of people all around the world exercising in their balconies along with their neighbors, like in Spain. Try to organize something like that in your home or simply workout alone in your living room. There are many free apps to help you with your sports routines, but know that you don’t necessarily need the internet to keep active. Squats, push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks are all examples of simple exercises you could do on your own. Remember that exercising is one of the best ways to stay healthy, so no excuses!

Work on Household Chores

Try rearranging your furniture to make your home feel new and different. Organize your closets and separate items for donation. Take care of your plants and watch them grow.

Just Be Home

Take the opportunity you have to stay home to enjoy the company and unconditional love of your pet. Read that pile of books you have on your list. Practice your preferred hobby like playing an instrument, drawing, or painting. You can also work on your financial planning. How about organizing your income and expenses sheet for the next few months? Or even better: do your taxes!

Conclusion

It’s okay to feel sad, frustrated, and bored. You’re not alone with these feelings. But for the time being, try to see your home as a place of love and security. Look for information from reliable sources and, until you’re told otherwise, stay home as much as possible to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus.

Source: iGrad

Taxpayers Should Be Aware of Coronavirus related Scams

COVID Tax Tip 2020-42, April 16, 2020

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for IRS impersonation calls, texts and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus or COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. These scams can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

Here’s what taxpayers should know:

  • The IRS will not call, email or text you to verify or request your financial, banking or personal information.
  • Watch out for websites and social media attempts to request money or personal information. The official website is IRS.gov.
  • Don’t open surprise emails that look like they’re coming from the IRS or click on attachments or links.
  • Taxpayers should not provide personal or financial information or engage with potential scammers online or over the phone.
  • Forward suspicious emails to phishing@irs.gov, then delete.
  • Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.

Here’s what people should know about the Economic Impact Payments:

  • The IRS will automatically deposit Economic Impact Payments into the bank account taxpayers provided on their 2019 or 2018 tax return for a direct deposit of their tax refund.
  • Those without a direct deposit account on file may be able to provide their banking information online through a new secure tool, Get My Payment..
  • Anyone who is eligible for an Economic Impact Payment and doesn’t provide direct deposit information will receive a payment mailed to the last address the IRS has on file.
  • The IRS does not charge a fee to issue the payment.

Scammers may:

  • Ask an individual to sign over their Economic Impact Payment check to them.
  • Ask for verification of personal or banking information.
  • Suggest that they can get someone tax refund or Economic Impact Payment faster by working on their behalf.
  • Issue a bogus check, often in an odd amount, then tell a person to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

Official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov. The IRS encourages people to share this information with family and friends. Many people who normally don’t normally file a tax return may not realize they’re eligible for an Economic Impact Payment.

What You Need to Know About Financial Vulnerability

  • If you’re feeling anxious, fearful, frustrated, or hopeless about your financial situation, you may be financially vulnerable.
  • Income fluctuation, a low credit score, a lack of savings, high levels of debt, and an inability to afford a home are all behavioral markers of financial vulnerability.

Ask yourself the question:

Would I be able to survive four weeks without a paycheck?

Depending on your level of financial vulnerability, the answer might be no. Not to worry! We’ve compiled some ways to know if you’re financially vulnerable and what you can do about it so that a job loss, reduced hours, emergency, or unexpected expense won’t take you down.

Psychological Markers

Even before considering your financial habits, you may be able to tell if you’re financially vulnerable based on some psychological markers. Psychology Today identifies four things that might suggest you are financially vulnerable.

If you’re feeling anxious about your financial situation, you might be financially vulnerable. Financially hard times can cause your anxiety and stress levels to increase. Similarly, you may feel fearful, frustrated, or hopeless if you’re financially vulnerable, which can also lead to negative effects on your health.

Other indicators are if you’re unsure about what will happen in the future (especially if you live paycheck-to-paycheck), lack knowledge about your personal financial situation or financial literacy in general, or are feeling negative emotions such as fear, frustration, or hopelessness when it comes to finances. These are all psychological markers that you’re financially vulnerable.

Behavioral Markers

While you may or may not have the psychological markers of financial vulnerability, you likely will have behavioral markers if you’re financially vulnerable. If you discover that you meet some of the characteristics, don’t worry! We’ll also include some tips on how to get yourself into a more financially stable position.

1. Income Fluctuation

Just having a job isn’t enough to suggest that you’re not financially vulnerable. If you have low or unreliable wages, you likely are financially vulnerable, especially since people with income variations tend to be twice as likely to fall behind on bills.

Maybe you pick up some additional contract-based work to supplement your main income, or work a part-time job without benefits, or perhaps rely entirely on commission for income. In any case, all of these examples are not only realistic, but can be a reason for large income fluctuations, potentially leading to financial insecurity.

If you find yourself in this position, you can work to get to a more financially stable place. If it’s possible, consider trying to find a job that offers more consistent pay. You might also be able to pick up some freelance work or a part-time job to supplement the income you have now.

Additionally, you might try to live on the average of what you earn. For example, if you’re in sales, you’re going to have high months and low months. Take the month where you earned the most and add that number to the month where you earned the least and divide the final number by 2. That can be a quick way to figure out what is a reasonable average monthly income.

Finally, don’t spend all you earn. Try to find ways to save money during the high months so that the low months don’t have to be so tight.

2. Low Credit Score

Another symptom of financial vulnerability is your credit score. If it is fair or poor (669 or below), you might find yourself in a financially tenable place. You might feel like you’re the only person who has struggled to get to a good credit score, but you’re not. As they say, credit is earned, not given, so many others may be struggling to either improve or start their credit history, just like you.

If this sounds like you, don’t worry. You can start rebuilding your credit score today. It will take time, but you can do it.

First, you should know what factors go into your credit score so that you know what area to target. The five components that contribute to your credit score are:

  • Payment History (35%): how often you’ve paid on time
  • Credit Utilization (30%): how much you owe
  • Length of Credit History (15%): how long you’ve had your lines of credit
  • New Credit (10%): how many new accounts you open
  • Credit Mix (10%): how many different lines of credit you have (credit card, loan, etc.)

Next, you need to figure out a plan that will help your credit score the most. If you regularly are late on your payments—which is a large portion of your credit score— definitely target that category, as you can see the greatest increase in your score. Missing/late payments can show up for years.

Also, don’t forget to target debt. As you pay it off, lenders will know that you can responsibly use and pay off credit, making you less of a risk and thus increasing your score.

Finally, just remember to use your credit cards responsibly. If you don’t have the money, don’t put it on the credit card. Only use your credit card if you can pay it off.

3. Lack of Savings

If something unexpected happens and you find yourself looking at your savings account and seeing practically no money, you might be financially vulnerable. Lacking even modest savings can indicate that something like a government shutdown for four weeks might be a huge financial disaster for you.

Even on an income with little wiggle room, it doesn’t have to be that way. Experts recommended putting away 15 percent of your annual income for savings. That might seem like an enormous amount, but if you work your way up to it a paycheck at a time, it can become more and more manageable.

The first step is designating a portion of your income to savings. Start small so that you can keep it up. Just like experts recommend that you start small with fitness goals—start by just getting out of the house and walking instead of trying to train for a marathon right off the bat—you should start small with your financial goals as well.

If you haven’t been saving any of your income at all, try saving 5% of it to begin. If you get paid by direct deposit, have 5% automatically go to your savings account. Then it’s out of sight and out of mind. If you’ve been saving 10%, try 12% or even 15%—anything to give yourself a little more in your savings account.

Also, once you get in the habit of saving, you might also want to make sure that you have 3-6 months of income saved in an emergency fund. Like a savings account, this will help prevent you from slipping into financial vulnerability if you if you find yourself without income for a month or two.

4. High Levels of Debt

Between rising housing costs, lofty education prices, and a climbing cost of living, it’s fairly likely that you either have some debt or will incur some over the course of your life, potentially putting you in a financially vulnerable position. If you want to get yourself out of a financially vulnerable position with your high levels of debt, you’ll need to simply pay off your debt. That, of course, is easier said than done.

Obviously, the first step is to stop taking on more debt and make a plan for tackling and paying off what you currently owe.

When figuring out a plan for paying off different kinds of debt (for example, if you have a mix of student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc.) the best way is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most amount of money in the long run. However, if you need to start small to eat the elephant one bite at a time, pay off your smallest debt first. Then you’ll start to see your progress, and it could be easier for you to keep going.

5. Inability to Afford a Home

While there is obviously nothing wrong with renting, if you’d like to buy your own home but can’t, you might be in a financially vulnerable position. If you’re currently a renter dreaming of homeownership, it’s going to be a herculean task, but you can do it with dedication and diligence.

If it’s possible, the first thing to consider is thinking outside of the box and looking into different homes that you may not have considered before. This may mean looking into less expensive homes, homes in a different part of town, or maybe slightly older homes.

Another option is getting a roommate.

Finally, you can also see if there are any incentives for first-time home buyers or low-income families if you fit into one of those categories. For example, you may qualify for a grant as a first-time home buyer if you make below a certain income level.

In conclusion, if recent setbacks have gotten you thinking about your financial situation and you’ve concluded that you are financially vulnerable right now, don’t worry! Just by taking some of these small steps, you can target your problem areas and get yourself to a financially healthy place so that no unexpected expense or life event will threaten your financial stability!

 

Source: iGrad

Financial Planning for an Uncertain Future

During uncertain times, like we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be hard to know how to plan your financial future. The key is to create a set of financial goals that you can work toward even during uncertain times, and which can help you build a strong foundation for your future financial wellness. Setting goals can be helpful not just for your financial future, but also for lowering your stress because you will be working from a predetermined plan.

Setting Short-Term Goals

When you start setting financial goals, your short-term goals should be focused on making sure that you can get through hardship that may come your way. Short-term goals may include such things as building up an emergency fund and paying down high interest loans or credit cards. Experts usually recommend an emergency fund of at least $1,000.

The key for short-term goals is that they should be achievable within a few months to a year. They should not be more significant or take longer; otherwise, they fall out of the range of short-term goals.

Setting Long-Term Goals

After setting your short-term goals, you should then set your long-term financial goals. Long-term goals should be steps you take to build a strong financial future for yourself in several years and even in a few decades. Long-term goals do not have to achieve anything immediately—they are more focused on benefits down the road. Long-term goals can include saving for retirement, paying off a house, and paying for your kids’ education.

When facing an uncertain future, it may not be possible to put as much toward your long-term goals as you might like. In particular, you need to make sure you can financially survive short-term hardship before prioritizing your long-term goals. There is no point in saving for retirement if you can’t pay your rent.

Understand How Different Scenarios Can Affect Your Goals

Once you have set some short-term and long-term financial goals, you should plan for a few different future scenarios and understand how those scenarios might affect your goals. For example, you could choose to predict what you think a good, neutral, and bad future could look like. Understanding what a bad scenario looks like is especially important when facing an uncertain future because you don’t know exactly what will happen, and you need to be prepared for the worst.

By having a general idea of these scenarios, you can then estimate what each would mean for your financial goals. You may need to adjust your goals depending on the scenario, and this adjustment may help you realize that you need to make some changes to your expectations of your lifestyle and/or your financial future.

One important thing to note: if in a bad future scenario you cannot meet your basic needs (food, rent, etc.), it may indicate that you need to start making changes today to protect your financial future. For example, you may need to try and increase your income or start building up an emergency fund.

Understand All Your Options

Finally, when facing an uncertain future, it is very important for you to understand all your options. This means looking at options that might be unique or temporary. In particular, when facing unprecedented situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, new financial options may be offered to those people affected. For example, relief has been offered on certain expenses like student loan or mortgage payments due to COVID-19.

So, to ensure you understand all your options when facing an uncertain future, you should do thorough research about your situation. This may mean checking online or calling your lenders to see what options they may be able to offer you. Even if your situation is not due to something as global as COVID-19, there still may be several options offered by your lender, which can help you achieve your financial goals and better prepare for the future.

Plan Carefully, but be Flexible

When creating financial goals for an uncertain future, careful planning can be enormously helpful for preparing for any scenario. If you have understood what may happen, you will be much better able to handle the future when it comes to pass.

However, it is also very important to remember that financial goals should change with your situation. The process of setting financial goals and assessing them in a variety of different scenarios is exactly that—a process. You are never really done with this process since as your situation changes, so will these potential future scenarios. Flexibility with your financial goals is key to your success at any time, but especially when your future is uncertain.

Source: Hannah Webb, Contributor to iGrad

Coronavirus and Your Financial Health

Are you concerned about the effect of the Coronavirus on your personal finances, career, and/or education?

Please bear in mind, due to the volatility of the COVID-19 pandemic, details about the illness, public response, policy, and more, are subject to change. Please consult your state and local offices for the most accurate and up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic in your area; and for global updates, consult the World Health Organization .

Create a Payment Triage Strategy:

Most experts recommend that you prioritize your bill payments according to what you need the most and what you have to lose if you don’t pay.

This means you should first consider paying for the assets and services you cannot do without. This often includes your home mortgage, heat, water, etc. because they can materially affect your health and well-being if they get cut off. For example, if you stop paying your mortgage, you might lose your home, which is definitely a risk to your health and safety.

Next, experts recommend that you pay any debts that are backed by assets1. You may want to consider these debts as your second priority because you can lose assets if you don’t pay the monthly bills. For example, if you don’t pay your car loan, you will eventually lose your car, which can then cause significant trouble in your life.

Lastly, you may consider your final priority of payments to be non-collateralized/unsecured debts. These are debts which are not connected to essential services or backed by any assets, so failing to make these payments does not put you in immediate hardship. Such debts can include credit cards, personal loans, and student loans. While such debts can definitely cause problems if not paid over the long run, they are the least likely to cause significant issues if not paid during a short-term crisis period.

Which Bills to Pay

If possible, experts strongly recommend that you pay all your minimum payments first before paying anything above your minimum payments. This allows you to avoid having missed payments on your record and is hugely helpful in maintaining good credit.

However, if you cannot pay all your minimum payments, you may then decide to mentally prioritize your debts—either using the prioritization efforts described above or using your own prioritization method. This can help you decide which payments to make and which ones you might have to delay.

It is important to keep in mind that if you cannot pay a minimum payment in full, a partial payment will still have a negative effect on your credit. Given that, you may want to prioritize making a lower number of full minimum payments over making a higher number of payments that are only partial.

Negotiate with Lenders

If you are encountering financial hardships due to a crisis, one option you may want to consider is negotiating with your lenders. While minimum payments can seem like hard rules, there are many instances where lenders will be flexible in consideration of a crisis—especially if that crisis is widespread. For example, many financial institutions have provided financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving fees and allowing customers to defer payments on debts. So, it can be of significant financial benefit for you to at least ask your lenders if other options are available.

When negotiating with your lenders, there are several compromises that may be available to help protect your credit. Like in the example above, you may be able to defer payments to avoid having a missed/late payment on your record. You may also ask about lowering your monthly payments in exchange for paying for a longer period of time. This means you are more easily able to make your payments, and the lender also doesn’t lose money on the arrangement. Other options may include lowering your APR so that future payments on any remaining debt will be lower.

For bills that are run by the government, such as utilities, you may be able to take advantage of hardship benefits. For example, Arlington, Virginia offers financial assistance for heating and cooling bills2. Such programs already exist for many local governments, and a major crisis can lead to even more programs being available to you.

Stay Calm and Protect Your Financial Future

By its very nature, a crisis is scary. It can be very easy to not think about your financial situation, and instead focus on just getting by or staying healthy in the case of a pandemic. But staying calm and developing a financial strategy is very important for you and your family. It can help you get through any crisis you may be going through in the short term, and protect your financial future in the long term.

Source: iGrad