As the U.S. keeps shattering records for coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, measures are getting stricter. New outbreaks on both coasts and in the Southwest have left many officials calling for restrictions, like the lockdowns currently in place in New Mexico and Oregon.
Meanwhile, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, was put back into lockdown for a minimum of 28 days, and in Europe, Germany has extended a stringent lockdown running through December.
While there’s still no talk of a widespread lockdown for the U.S., even regional or statewide closing orders could spell trouble for Americans’ livelihoods ahead of the holidays.
But you still have time to prepare. Here are nine things you can do to protect your finances ahead of a new wave of restrictions.
1. Keep saving
As the first wave of the pandemic swept over the country, the one piece of financial advice that just about every expert agreed on was that every consumer should build an emergency fund.
Apparently, people listened. In April, the U.S. personal savings rate — the percentage of disposable income that people are setting aside for the future — soared to 33%.
That was the highest since the Bureau of Economic Analysis began tracking the savings rate in 1959.
If you managed to preserve your emergency fund during the initial lockdowns, try to keep making regular contributions. As long as the money is stashed in a high-yield account, your savings will continue to grow at a better-than-usual rate, leaving you more to fall back on.
2. Take advantage of online discounts
New lockdowns could put brick-and-mortar retail stores out of operation again, forcing consumers to do most of their shopping online.
Shopping online has its perks: You don’t need to put on a mask or even get off the couch, and you have the ability to check prices with an enormous range of stores.
By installing a free browser extension, you can instantly compare prices on everything you order, even factoring in shipping, sales tax and availability. You’ll also track down coupons and promo codes that you can automatically apply at checkout to save even more money.
3. Sharpen your credit score
If a new lockdown puts your job at risk, you may need to take out a personal loan to help cover your expenses.
And if your credit score isn’t great, it’ll be a lot harder to get a loan at a decent interest rate. The best way to make sure your credit score is in good shape is to check up on it every month.
These days, it’s easy to see your credit score for free online, and companies that help you access your score often provide free credit monitoring services, too.
You’ll be notified any time your score changes and get helpful tips on how to put your score back on track if it takes a hit.
4. Clear out some debt
Gallery: 9 ways to protect your finances from the new COVID lockdowns (MoneyWise)
9 ways to protect your finances from the new COVID lockdowns
1. Keep saving
2. Sharpen your credit score
3. Clear out some debt
4. Expand your job search
5. Take on a side gig
6. Make sure you’ve got health coverage
7. Take advantage of online discounts
8. Keep your retirement plan on track
9. Take stock of your spending
Credit card debt can be tough to manage during the best of times — interest rates can top 20% — but it’ll be even more difficult if a new lockdown interrupts your source of income.
If you start racking up interest on multiple cards and fail to make your minimum payments, your credit score will plummet and your debt will quickly spiral out of control.
It’s a good idea to make larger than normal payments now if you still have the means to do so.
With a solid credit score, you may be able to reduce your monthly debt payments by bundling your credit card balances together into a single debt consolidation loan with a lower interest rate.
5. Take stock of your spending
If you don’t track every dollar that leaves your account each month, you’ll be surprised by how much you can save with a few tweaks.
Create a list or a spreadsheet of your monthly expenses and identify any nonessential items that can be cut out of your budget during the lockdown. For example, do you really need to subscribe to multiple streaming services?
And search for savings on your recurring or automatic expenses, like your homeowners insurance. Review how much you’re currently spending and then compare rates from at least three other insurers to see if you can get a better deal.
6. Pick up a side gig
Whether or not you’re hunting for work, bringing in extra income from a side gig is a great way to help out with your daily expenses.
Today’s online freelance marketplaces can help you find buyers for all kinds of talents, from graphic design to blogging to voice acting to life coaching.
Best of all, most of these side gigs can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Spending a few hours a week on your side hustle will also help to expand your network and build up your resume, both of which can improve your chances of landing a full-time job in the future.
7. Make sure you’ve got health coverage
If you lost your job during the first lockdowns, you probably also lost your health insurance. The consumer advocacy group Families USA has estimated that the pandemic cut 5.4 million people off from their coverage.
You may feel you can’t afford to buy a new policy right now, but if you or someone in your family runs up medical expenses while you’re not covered, it could cost you far more that what you’d pay in insurance premiums.
To get the most coverage for the best price, you’ll need to shop around and get quotes from multiple insurance companies. That can be a chore, but you can compare rates for free online and find the lowest rate in just a few minutes.
8. Get your retirement plan back on track
Average 401(k) balances dropped by almost 20% earlier this year, when the virus first started smashing into the economy, according to research from Fidelity Investments. Fresh lockdowns could set Americans’ retirement savings back even further.
If your plan for your golden years has been derailed by the coronavirus, you may want to sit down with a financial adviser to get your portfolio back on track.
Working with an certified financial planner is more affordable than you might think, and these days it can be done entirely online. So even in lockdown, good advice is nearby.
9. Expand your job search
A new wave of mass lockdowns would almost certainly trigger another round of layoffs and furloughs.
If you’re concerned about losing your job — or if you’re unemployed and looking for work — make a habit of checking for new job postings regularly, maybe even twice a day.
Some modern job boards will present you with jobs you never knew about that happen to fit your profile. They can even provide valuable hiring info, including the qualifications that recruiters look for in a top candidate.
And before you start your search, make sure you have a professional, up-to-date resume you can send to potential employers and upload to LinkedIn and other networking sites.