Your Guide To A Successful Post-Pandemic Finance Refresh
America is starting to heal. Businesses are opening their doors again, vaccines are making it to more and more people, the economy is picking itself back up, and everyone is finally allowing a little bit of hopeful optimism back into their lives.
We still have work to do—not everyone is vaccinated, and COVID variants haven’t disappeared. But on the whole, we seem to have made it through the worst and many of us are taking a breath and wondering what we ought to do next.
For most people, that next move should include a financial refresh. This is the perfect time to check accounts, take stock of stocks, revisit financial goals, and get your banking in order. These refresh sessions are important no matter what the surrounding circumstances are, but it’s especially important—for both your mental and financial health—that you take part in them now, after so much has happened in our country and communities.
This guide will go over the basics and provide you with some actionable steps for re-acquainting yourself with your finances post-COVID.
Step One: Talk It Out (The Right Way)
Collectively, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve been through a lot. Whether or not you were directly affected by the pandemic, you likely know people who were.
Some of us lost loved ones. Jobs disappeared. Work dried up, or alternatively increased to barely-sustainable levels as parents and caretakers were forced to balance working from home with working at home. The results of this brief era have been far reaching, and our personal finances are one area where the impact has been felt most deeply by millions of Americans.
Right now, you need to take a moment to slow down and mentally work through each of the financial “zones” that may have been touched by pandemic conditions. It’s important that you take whatever help you can while performing this exercise, whether you work with a spouse, a knowledgeable and trustworthy friend, or perhaps most importantly, with a professional accountant or wealth advisor.
Some of the more common financial shifts and challenges faced by Americans are the following:
These are just a few examples of how the pandemic might have impacted your household’s financial situation, and there are plenty of other hurdles you may have experienced personally. Some of the challenges have impacted one gender more than another, or they’ve hit certain industries more directly than others.
Talking through your own, unique list of pandemic financial impacts, challenges, and changes is a vital first step not only in preparing for your future, but also in healing mentally and emotionally from what has likely been an intensely stressful time for you and your loved ones. You should engage in this strategy the right way by intentionally directing time and focus to it, rather than performing it piecemeal “when you get the chance.”
Make sure you take the time to engage in this conversation and record the different priority areas that become clear throughout the process.
Step Two: Gather And Find Things Before They Get Buried
After living and working in the same, often shared, spaces for so long, it’s only natural for our “offices” to look a bit...chaotic.
Change is always somewhat messy, but many of us were taken off guard by the sudden shifts in how, where, and when we work. As a result, you may have adapted “on the fly,” without much of a chance to plan or organize yourself along the way. Paperwork, digital records, receipts, and other bits and pieces of your work-life can easily get out of hand when you don’t have a system in place for keeping them categorized.
Once you have an idea of what your broader financial goals and challenges are, you’ll want to sit down and go through all of your records one piece at a time. Like the refresh process itself, periodic organizing bursts are always a good idea—but it’s especially vital that you do so now, when so many of our financial record keeping processes and norms have changed.
Keep in mind that you’re likely to have new, probably unfamiliar piles of paper or collections of digital information to keep track of post-pandemic. Tax situations changed drastically for many business owners, retired persons, and heads-of-households, and things like stimulus, paycheck protection, employee aid, or COVID-related government payments all came with their own associated accounts and procedures.
Make sure you keep your business-related and personal COVID financial records separate from the usual ones, because the situation was unique and may bring about new, unexpected, or temporary rule changes from the government and other financial institutions. It will be easier to go back and refer to particulars if those particulars aren’t mixed in with everything else.
It’s always a good idea to scan all physical documents and receipts while putting them away, and you can simply mirror your physical organizing system with a corresponding digital one. There are many free or low-cost apps and programs designed to help you track and organize your financial records, and many companies have added special pandemic guides to help you utilize their services at this time.
With all the stress our finances have undergone lately, good organizing habits and strong recordkeeping have never been more important. Make sure you prioritize this process before it impacts your or your loved ones’ future.
Step Three: Reimagine Your Financial Future...With Realism As Your Focus
It’s tempting to give into unhindered optimism right now, and we all want things to “go back to normal” now that we’ve had a glimpse of a post-pandemic future. But the fact of the matter is that our “normal” will never be exactly what it was before, and our financial norms are going to change in response to this experience whether we want them to or not.
When you sit down to “refresh” your financial situation and take stock of your long-term wealth and expectations, it’s important that you do so with a basic understanding that this could happen again. And whether or not we go through another pandemic-type situation, we’ve all seen what happens when people and businesses aren’t prepared for major events like COVID.
Moving forward, you need to have at least a bare-bones plan for how you and your assets will weather economic storms and recover once they pass. Rather than getting alarmed at this process, think of it as an exercise in reflection and introspection.
Thinking about another huge financial challenge is the last thing most of us want to do at the moment. Ultimately, however, it’s better to stress a little bit now rather than face major problems down the road. We can all hope for a stable, prosperous future, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore the financial lessons that COVID has forced us to learn.
When speaking to your advisor or partners, try to bring in both the challenges you’ve already faced due to the economic impacts of COVID as well as those you could have faced but didn’t (whether due to luck or some other factor).
As they say, change is the only constant—and this is as true for businesses as it is for individuals. Financially speaking, the way we save, view, and relate to our money has changed drastically over the course of the past year, and the effects of these changes will only become more and more apparent as we move toward recovery.
Part of your refresh needs to be a dedicated and realistic attitude toward financial change, and a well-planned strategy for handling that kind of change when it next arises. It’s best to get the help of a professional for this particular step, if you can.
Conclusion - Give Your Finances The Chance To Heal, And Vaccinate Against Future Challenges
The purpose of a financial refresh isn’t to simply sit and ponder your situation in a vague, intangible way. The exact steps of your own refresh will largely depend on your unique circumstances and their relative components, be they business interests, debts, retirement plans, or anything else relating to your personal financial health.
But the steps should be exact. Talking through and taking account of your current challenges, re-organizing your records and other information, and taking the lessons of the past into your financial future are all areas where these steps can take place, and when all three elements are aligned, you’ll be far better prepared for whatever comes your way.
No matter your net worth, it’s more likely than unlikely you faced some setbacks over the past year. And even if you didn’t, your finances will have had to adapt to widespread shifts in our financial institutions’ practices and rules, and your money may not hold the same value as it did before the pandemic.
This refresh may seem stressful at first, but it’s the only way you can avoid stress in the future. So take a breath, call an ally, and get your house in order—because you can’t afford not to.
Tarun Juneja (TJ) | 07/19/2021