By: Jessica Larson
Financial issues have come to the forefront during the pandemic, a fact that’s even more true for women than for others. Worldwide, the pandemic is projected to widen the gender poverty gap, pushing more women than men into extreme poverty, with a greater proportion of women expected to lose their jobs.
Here in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the initial COVID-19 outbreak sent women’s share of the workforce down to 49.2%, its lowest level since 2008.
What does all this mean for you? It means you need to get your money situation under control, now more than ever. Fortunately, there are ways to adjust and minimize the fallout. Here are a few strategies that can help protect you during this stressful time:
Assess your employment situation
Has your job changed as a result of the pandemic? Chances are, it has. Maybe you haven’t been laid off, but workplace cuts might still have affected your job description and required you to do more or different work than before. If you haven’t already, take steps to find out what’s what in your workplace.
If you don’t know what your company’s plans are, schedule an appointment with your human resources manager to discuss them. Ask about how the company’s response to the pandemic affects your health insurance, vacation time, and other benefits. Will some jobs be eliminated or contracted out? Will some positions be combined? Is remote work a possibility?
Ask as many questions as you can to get a sense of what you can expect.
If you’re working for yourself, you’ll have different questions. Health benefits, for example, will be your responsibility. So, start doing some research. How much coverage do you need vs. how much you can afford? And where can you get it?
You’ll need home and auto insurance, too. Can you cut costs by bundling policies together? What can you do to save money by avoiding overlap? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself moving forward.
Expand your skill set
Women have a long history of picking up the slack when the American job market goes haywire. Take advantage of the nominal advances that have happened in the intervening decades. If your job offers cross-training opportunities, take full advantage of them. This could help protect you if your position is eliminated because you’ll still be qualified for other roles within the company. The more capabilities you have, the more marketable you’ll be.
Also look for ways to expand your knowledge and skill set beyond the scope of your current employment. Take advantage of online training courses, or consider taking night classes. These extra skills can set you up for a career change, if necessary, and could also pave the way for side work if you need extra income.
In response to the pandemic, as you know, much of the service economy has shifted online — and it’s likely to stay there, at least to some extent, once the pandemic eases. According to one survey, 1 in 4 women are starting their own businesses in response to the changing economic landscape, and 61% are planning a career change.
The good news: Half of those surveyed said they thought COVID had actually created new opportunities for them. The fastest-growing sectors: health and fitness, and publishing.
Protect what you’ve got
As your situation changes, be sure to stay on top of your finances. You may need to adjust your budget, but that’s OK. That’s a move that’s proven necessary for most people as incomes shift and markets fluctuate.
There are plenty of financial management apps available, so find one that’s best tailored to your situation. After you’ve accounted for your monthly basics, try to set aside a little more than the minimum to pay your debts, so you can reduce your interest. Sock away money in savings for emergencies, and look into retirement plans.
Be sure you’ve got solid credit, too, in case you need it. It’s easy to let your conscientious credit practices lapse during lean times — only to have your history come back to haunt you when you’re on your feet again. Do everything you can to make payments on time.
You also should protect yourself with insurance, even for things you might not think about. Too often, we make the mistake of forgetting about the potential for major home expenses until it’s too late. Then a pipe bursts, the furnace goes out, or the dishwasher breaks down, and you’re stuck with catastrophic repair costs. A home warranty can cover the cost of such major expenses.
And don’t forget to give thought toward safeguarding your family’s future. Get help nailing down a life insurance policy as well as writing and filing a will, health directives, and a power of attorney designation in case you become incapacitated.
Call on a variety of resources
If you’re a working mother, you’ve almost certainly found yourself having to juggle your job with taking care of kids kept home from school by COVID. To make things even more difficult, many child care centers are closed, and nearly half could be shuttered permanently. To help cushion this blow, find out what relief programs you might qualify for.
Medical assistance, tax and/or student loan relief, and unemployment benefits are just some of the regular resources available. Numerous federal measures have been enacted since the beginning of the pandemic, as well. Tap into your family and social network to help out, too.
The pandemic has stretched our individual resources — and our collective patience — to the limit and beyond, but that doesn’t mean we should panic. With a solid financial plan and a willingness to adapt, we can find new opportunities to fill in the gaps now that may even lead to greater success in the future.
My name is Jessica Larson. I’m a married Midwestern mom and a solopreneur. I create online courses for students, and I’ve started and run several other businesses through the years. My goals are to support my family while still actually spending time with them, to act as an entrepreneurial role model for my two daughters, and to share what I’ve learned through The Solopreneur Journal.