9 ways to prepare for the next COVID-19 lockdown

Laveta Brigham

9 ways to prepare for the next COVID-19 lockdown After giving up spring break and summer barbecues, cooped-up Americans are looking forward to the day when things go back to normal. But COVID-19 isn’t like a natural disaster that strikes once, then fades away. Several states have paused or walked […]

9 ways to prepare for the next COVID-19 lockdown
9 ways to prepare for the next COVID-19 lockdown

After giving up spring break and summer barbecues, cooped-up Americans are looking forward to the day when things go back to normal. But COVID-19 isn’t like a natural disaster that strikes once, then fades away.

Several states have paused or walked back their plans to reopen, as new hot spots emerge and the number of active cases remains high.

Now health experts are warning that a second round of lockdowns may be necessary as the fall flu season begins, classes resume and cool weather drives people into cramped indoor spaces.

Even a series of smaller, more localized lockdowns could spell trouble for Americans’ livelihoods, especially for those workers still feeling drained after round one.

But you still have time to prepare. Here are nine things you can do to protect your finances ahead of a second wave.

1. Keep saving

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nina_p_v / Twenty20

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 to 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’s the highest it’s been since the Bureau of Economic Analysis began tracking it in 1959.

If you managed to preserve your emergency fund during the initial lockdown, try to keep making regular contributions. As long as they’re stashed in a high-yield account, your savings will continue to grow at a significant rate, leaving you more to fall back on.

On the other hand, if you were forced to dip into your emergency fund during the past few months, or if you weren’t able to set enough (or any) aside, you should make an effort to do so now, even if it’s only a small amount.

2. Pump up your credit score

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Casper1774 Studio / Shutterstock

If a second lockdown would put your job at risk, you may need to take out a personal loan at some point to help cover your expenses.

But 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.

A number of companies will show you your credit score for free online, and many of them also provide free credit-monitoring services, as well.

They’ll notify you any time your score changes and offer helpful tips on how to get your score back on track if it takes a hit.

3. Clear out some debt

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Marie C Fields / Shutterstock

Credit card debt can be tough to manage at 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.

Getting rid of a big chunk of your debt will also help bring down your “credit utilization ratio” — the amount of credit you’re using versus the amount you have available — and bump up your credit score.

With a solid credit score, you may be able to save on your monthly payments by bundling your credit card balances together into a single debt consolidation loan with a lower interest rate.

4. Expand your job search

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TonyTheTigersSon / Twenty20

A second lockdown would almost certainly trigger another round of layoffs and furloughs. If you’re concerned about losing your job — or you’re unemployed and still looking for work — you should make a habit of checking for new job postings regularly, maybe even twice a day.

It’s obviously important to keep an eye on what’s out there in your chosen field, but it can also be helpful to check what’s available in other industries that might be a good fit for your skillset.

Some modern job boards will present you with jobs you never knew about that happen to fit your profile. They can even provide valuable info on those jobs, 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 that you can send to potential employers and upload to networking sites like LinkedIn.

5. Pick up a side gig

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Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Whether or not you’re hunting for work, bringing in some extra income from a side gig is a great way to help out with your daily expenses.

Today, online 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.

You might even find that your side gig is lucrative enough to turn it into a career. America has the fastest-growing gig economy in the world, according to the digital payments platform Payoneer, and freelancing could be your ticket to staying afloat during the next wave of the pandemic.

6. Make sure you’ve got health coverage

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Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock

If you lost your job during the first lockdown, chances are you also lost your health insurance. The consumer advocacy group Families USA estimated in July that the pandemic cut 5.4 million people off from their coverage.

You might feel like you can’t afford to purchase 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.

In 2018, the average cost of health care in the U.S. was $11,172 — and that’s just the average. Buying health insurance could save you thousands (or tens of thousands) if something unexpected happens and you need serious medical treatment.

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 a number of websites will let you compare rates for free and find the cheapest price in just a few minutes.

7. Take advantage of online discounts

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A second lockdown would put retail stores out of operation once again, and consumers across the country would need to do most of their shopping online.

Shopping online is not without 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.

Now, scanning the entire internet for every item in your cart would get real old, real fast. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to make sure you get the lowest price every time you shop on the web.

By installing a free browser extension, you can instantly compare prices on everything you order, taking into account things like 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.

8. Get your retirement plan back on track

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Tashatuvango / Shutterstock

During the first three months of this year, the average 401(k) balance dropped by almost 20%, Fidelity Investments says. A second lockdown 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.

A financial adviser can build you a personalized retirement plan based on your financial goals, and offer valuable insight on how to make the most of your money during this uncertain time.

Working with an adviser is more affordable than you might think, and these days it can be done entirely online, so even in lockdown, good advice is just an email or a phone call away.

9. Take stock of your spending

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wutzkohphoto / Shutterstock

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 non-essential items that can be cut out of your budget during the lockdown. Do you really need to subscribe to multiple streaming services? Does brand-name macaroni really taste better than the store’s version?

Next, try shopping at a few different stores in your neighborhood. Prices can differ greatly, even down to the individual item, and you might find that your usual go-to is not the best option.

Now take that logic and apply it to recurring or automatic expenses, like your home insurance. Take a look at how much you’re currently spending, then compare rates from at least three other insurers to see if you can find a better deal.

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