5 ways couples can work together during the coronavirus pandemic to protect their finances

Apr 21, 2020 09:47 AM CNBC

If you and your partner are worried about the impact the coronavirus pandemic may have on your job security or finances, it’s a good idea to start working together now to shore up the stability of your household.

To help you get started, here are five tips from financial experts on what to do now to protect yourselves going forward.

1. Carve out time to have a money talk: Before you do anything else, you and your partner should have a sit-down talk about money, either on your own or with a financial advisor.

Start by choosing a time when both of you will be in the right mindset for a serious conversation. “It could be before work starts, after work ends or even on a weekend when there is less news and distractions taking place,” says Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, a financial advisor at O’Keeffe Financial Partners.

Since money discussions can be difficult to navigate, especially during a time like this, it can be helpful to come with talking points prepared. Kaleb Paddock, a certified financial planner at Ten Talents Financial Planning, recommends you and your partner go through at least the following three areas:

  1. Review your monthly expenses: First, take a look at how much you and your partner spend in a 30-day period. This will help you “get very clear about your burn rate,” Paddock says, referring to the total amount of money you spend each month.
  2. Check your joint accounts: Once you have an idea of how much you spend each month, take a look at how much cash you have in your checking and savings accounts. Ask yourselves, How much money could we last on if one of us were to lose our income?
  3. Discuss job security: Finally, make sure to “talk with your partner about how you are going to handle covering each other’s bills if one of you loses income and the other does not,” Paddock says.

By going through these three points, you and your partner will have a better idea about where you stand financially as well as an understanding of how you would fare if one of you were to become jobless.

Sometimes, the act of listening to one another’s financial concerns and talking openly about your joint money situation can also serve as the helpful reality check you both need. If your talk reveals that you’ve been spending too much lately, you can make a pact to be more frugal in the coming weeks — and hold each other accountable.

2. Establish an emergency fund: If you or your partner’s jobs could be impacted by Covid-19, you should focus on short-term financial goals right now, such as building an emergency fund, says Brian Walsh, a certified financial planner at online personal finance company SoFi. 

Experts typically recommend saving up between three to six months’ worth living expenses. If you’re just starting an account now that can be a lot to tackle, so contribute whatever you can on a regular basis, says Marcy Keckler, vice president of financial advice strategy at Ameriprise Financial.

“It’s important to have a cash cushion should the coronavirus continue to take a toll on the economy, disrupt jobs or impact the health of many more people,” Keckler says.

As a general rule, the less stable your job is, the more you should try to contribute. You’ll also want this money to be stored in an easily accessible place, such as a savings account, so that you can get at it as quickly as possible if you need it.

3. Cut back on spending: It’s a good idea to try and limit unnecessary spending, especially when “many people are taking voluntary pay cuts” or being laid off, O’Keeffe Merrick says.

Many Americans have already started: In the U.S., 52% of adults have cut back on spending due to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy and stock market, according to a recent Bankrate survey.

To figure out where you and your partner can cut back, start by looking at your discretionary spending. This includes things that are useful, but not necessary, such as cable or ordering in food. Which of these optional expenses can you live without?

Next, look at your necessary expenditures, such as food and rent. Some of these expenses may be flexible, like groceries. If you normally by all name brand, premium products, you can try switching to generic items until the economy recovers.

Additionally, “you should think about postponing any large ticket items you were going to buy” until further notice, O’Keeffe Merrick says.

4. Revisit your insurance coverage: Now is a good time for you and your partner to review your health insurance plans to see what’s covered and where you need to make contingency plans. “I’d urge couples to take a second look at the insurance they have in place to make sure they have the appropriate coverage should they face any health challenges as a result of Covid-19,” Keckler says.

Start by making sure you have your provider’s name and your policy number written down in a convenient place. You’ll need your policy number each time you call your provider to ask questions.

Next, familiarize yourself with the basics of your insurance plan, including whether your partner is covered under your policy and what your deductible and maximum out-of-pocket costs are, if they’re listed. You should also understand how your co-insurance works. This is the percentage you pay for care after you’ve met your deductible.

If your policy has a $2,000 deductible and $5,000 maximum out-of-pocket costs, then aim to put away at least $7,000 in case you or your partner get sick.

If you have life insurance, you should also call your provider and ask who’s listed as your beneficiary, or the person who’s eligible to receive your trust if you pass away. This information may need to be updated. If you have an ex-spouse, for example, they may still be listed as your beneficiary.

5. Find a financial advisor: Once you and your partner have had an in-depth talk about your situation, you’ll likely have a better grasp on whether professional help is needed to help you come up with a financial plan, Keckler says.

If you don’t already have an advisor, set up phone calls with several prospective financial professionals to find one that will work well with your specific situation. During these initial conversations, you’ll want to describe the sort of issues you’re looking for help with and inquire about whether these professionals have the appropriate experience to advise.

When you hire a professional to assist with your finances, it’s crucial that they’re not only capable, but that they also pledge to put your interests first. In official terms, they should be a fiduciary, which means they have a legal responsibility to do what’s best for you. You can also look for an advisor who is a certified financial planner (CFP), which means they are “rigorously trained in 72 areas of financial expertise and must accrue thousands of hours of experience prior to earning their certification,” according to the CFP Board.

When “shopping” around for a financial advisor, you should also consider whether this person seems like someone who you would want to have handling your finances after only speaking with them a few times, explains Douglas Boneparth, president and founder of Bone Fide Wealth.

For that reason, when interviewing prospective advisors, you should pay extra attention to their communication styles and be sure to ask any questions you may have, even ones that may feel overly detailed or minute.


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