Money can be a major source of stress, especially when there’s so much uncertainty around work, business and family. Here, we pass on practical tips from three experts to help improve your financial wellbeing. Stacey Lowman and Emma Maslin are certified financial coaches, while Yogesh Patel is an accountant, tax and business advisor. Yogesh is a strong believer in using business as a force for good and runs his company, Telic, around this belief.
If you’re feeling anxious
"Be kind to yourself," says Stacey. "Don’t feel guilt or shame - none of us could have predicted the scale and speed of the spread of coronavirus or how it would impact our finances, let alone other aspects of our lives."
Next step? "Know your numbers. So much uncertainty can come from avoiding looking at your bank balance," she says. "But actually, that’s one place where you can get some certainty." Within Starling accounts, bank balances are shown in real time and daily and monthly spend are calculated for you.
Emma recommends the following exercise to relieve anxiety by recognising what you can and can’t control. "Draw one large circle and a smaller circle inside it. In the smaller circle - the circle of control - write down all the things you have control over: where you can spend your money, picking up the phone to HMRC to understand what you’re entitled to, having a conversation with someone about your worries and reviewing your budget. Then in the larger circle - the circle of concern - put the things that are outside of your control," she says. "Focus on one small step at a time from within your circle of control."
If you’ve been furloughed
When you’re furloughed, you’re still employed but you temporarily stop working and 80% of your salary is paid by the government. "Have a very clear conversation with your employer," says Stacey. "How long are you going to be furloughed? What’s the chance that it will continue beyond lockdown? How does it impact pension contributions?" Even if your employer can’t give you concrete answers right now, try to gain as much clarity as possible and create a written record of what’s been agreed.
If you have the time and headspace, find a passion project. "What I started with The Money Whisperer was a hobby initially," says Emma, "Three years on I’m in a position where this is my full-time job and I love it." She recently expanded her business to include The Money Lounge, a community to build women’s financial confidence.
If you’ve been made redundant
Redundancy is never easy. You’re going to need emotional support - from friends, family or a helpline such as Samaritans - plus financial support. As hard as it is, try to gain a clear picture of your financial situation: minimum outgoings, potential income, debt, available credit and details of your redundancy package, if you have one. Organisations such as Turn2us and Entitled To can provide information on Universal Credit and benefits.
"Call all the financial providers you have a relationship with and ask if they can give you payment breaks or better rates for mortgages or overdrafts," says Stacey.
When it comes to searching for work, Stacey encourages people to think outside the box. "This change could be a springboard to do something different." Alongside Pachira Money, Stacey leads Career Change programmes at Escape The City, a platform to help people find work that matters to them, either by joining another company or by starting their own business. "If you’ve worked for someone else your whole career, the concept of creating your own role can feel really alien - until you start doing it."
If you’re self-employed
Many self-employed people are facing huge challenges now. If you’re in difficulty, you may want to think about how to pivot your business during lockdown and look at the support schemes available. "Get support where you can," says Yogesh.
Next, review costs and repurpose funds. "Tax payments due on 31st July 2020 can be deferred for another six months - that’s a quick and easy way to manage cash flow. If your earnings are a lot lower, you may be able to pay less council tax. Have a look at switching websites for insurance or energy. If you have a shop, try to negotiate on rent and cancel what you’re not using, such as cleaning costs or personal outgoings such as travel insurance or gym membership."
Yogesh also advises looking into Key Person or Relevant Life Insurance, which provides cover if you or a core employee has an accident or can’t work due to illness. "It’s something that businesses often overlook."
If you have time on your hands, try learning a skill that could boost your business. "People are learning about video editing, social media, coding - agility has to continually come into play."
Equally, if all you can do right now is look after yourself - do that. "Wellbeing for me is using apps like PictureThis to learn about flowers and trees. Where you may have got satisfaction out of securing ten contracts, try to find satisfaction elsewhere. Reset what wealth means to you." He’s currently teaching his children to grow sunflowers and vegetables - a new source of satisfaction.
If you’re juggling family life with work life
"Lockdown has reshaped my routine," says Yogesh, who has two young children. "I now get up at 6am so I can get three hours of ’deep work’ done before the day really begins."
Early starts aren’t for everyone but this flexible mindset can apply to multiple scenarios, especially to children being homeschooled. The 9am to 3pm school day doesn’t always have to apply. Expect interruptions and acknowledge everything you’re getting right, from teaching them how to spell a new word to learning the name of a bird or a flower in the park.
Emma, also running a business and homeschooling her two children, adds: "Be realistic about your skills as teachers - we’re not teachers. Prioritise mental health and keeping them safe and happy over structured education." As a financial coach, she’s been passing on the skills and knowledge she already has by teaching them about money. Her daughters have reviewed money apps for kids and even started The Pocket Money Diaries, a series of interviews with other children about pocket money.
"There are so many experiences around the home which are teaching them a huge amount of life skills that they wouldn’t be getting if they were at school - focus on your wins there and give yourself a big pat on the back."
If you’re in lockdown with people you don’t usually live with
Talking openly about money is key, no matter who you’re living with. "Get clear on each other’s financial situations," says Stacey. "This person is on furlough, this person is self-employed and has lost income, this person is on Universal Credit." If there’s a bill that needs paying that one person in a shared flat or house can’t afford and another can, talk about it and find a solution. "When it comes to friends and family, remember that the relationship is always more important than the money."
Young adults temporarily living with their parents during lockdown could also keep track of food shops and offer to make a contribution. Starling accounts include features such as Settle Up and Nearby Payments to make splitting bills easier.
If you’re thinking about long-term financial goals
"What the coronavirus has shown us is the importance of an emergency fund," says Emma. "Before all of this, having an emergency fund of between three and six months of living expenses was the target to aim for. But assess how you feel as a result of everything that’s happened in the last two months. Aim to build up an amount of money available in accessible funds that will help you sleep easy at night based on your personal circumstances."
Emergency funds can take a long time to build up. If you are currently able to spare the money, one way to get started or add to your pot is to set aside what you would have been spending on your commute or lunches. Emma also recommends reviewing if you can afford to increase personal contributions to your pension. But of course for many people in the current situation, adding to savings may be unrealistic, and budgeting will need to take priority over the next few months.
The article above is intended as general information and does not constitute advice in any way. You should take independent advice if you have any questions about your specific circumstances.