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Written by: Victoria Rutland
30/07/2020
Life is filled with uncertainty, especially at times like this. The current pandemic has heightened uncertainty over the economy, employment, finances, relationships, and of course, physical and mental health.

We can’t change what’s happened so far, but we can give you some tips for how to address some of your fears and frustrations when it comes to your finances.

Below are some of the most common concerns we’ve heard over the last few months.

“Everyone talks about having an emergency fund, but I don’t have enough left at the end of the month to save anything.”

Many of us make the mistake of saving what’s left at the end of the month, which often means very little or nothing at all. Instead, make saving some of what you earn a monthly priority. Start with a small sum at the beginning of the month. Then when you don’t notice that money not being there, increase it slightly until you get into the habit of saving a decent amount each month.

It’s important to have an ‘emergency fund’ so that you avoid getting into debt to deal with a financial emergency. We all know that the car or the boiler will break at the most unhelpful time. A good rule of thumb is to aim for the equivalent of three-six months outgoings in cash.

“What if I lose my job?”

Your emergency fund will really help to reduce the financial strain if you were to lose your job. Even more so if you didn’t find a job straight away. If you are concerned, consider increasing your emergency fund further over the next few months – remember small sums quickly add up.

“I’m concerned about paying my mortgage?”

First things first, never just stop paying your mortgage. This will affect your credit score going forward and can have an effect for several years. If you’re really struggling, call your mortgage lender. Most lenders are offering a mortgage holiday which will give you some breathing space.

Also speak to an independent mortgage broker about your options. You may be able to move to a different lender or product with a cheaper monthly cost. Always make sure that your broker is independent as they will be able to offer you advice about the whole of the mortgage market. A good broker will discuss your options free of charge.

“I’ve lost track of my spending during lockdown.”

Our spending habits have changed during lockdown, you may have stopped eating out but now spend more on your weekly shop. You may have gone a bit overboard with the internet shopping, you may not be commuting anymore.

Controlling your spending during ‘normal’ times is important, but during times of uncertainty, it’s imperative. Create a household budget by listing both your income and outgoings to help you manage your money better. The Money Advice Service has a useful free budget planner to help you get started.

Go back over the last few months and make sure you are not overpaying for any of your bills. Use a comparison site such as Uswitch to save money on your utility bills, mobile contracts and insurances.

“We struggled with our finances during the global financial crisis, is that going to happen again?”

I won’t sugar coat this, yes, it is possible. The UK, along with much of the rest of the world, is thought to be heading into the worst recession for decades.

Think about the reasons you struggled during the financial crisis, was it paying the mortgage? Paying the bills? Paying for the extras? Whatever it was, consider increasing your emergency fund to give you some extra support for this.

Your largest monthly expenditure will likely be the mortgage. You could consider holding the equivalent of 12 mortgage payments in cash in addition to an emergency fund – although this will be difficult to achieve for many of us.

Keeping to your budget can really help. Remember to build your savings into your budget as a regular expenditure. If money is tight one month, you can reduce your savings without touching your emergency fund.

“The markets are dropping; am I losing all my money?”

It’s been a turbulent few months for all investors as fear over the coronavirus spread. Remember that when you are investing for the medium to long term (5-10 years+) then market fluctuations have much less effect on your portfolio than they do in the short-term.

If the last few months have given you additional stress, it might be a good idea to reduce your risk exposure. Risk is not just about the return, it’s about what makes you comfortable.

“What if I’m too ill to work?”

The government will pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) via your employer for up to 28 weeks. This is being paid from day one for COVID related illnesses (payable from day four for all other illnesses). SSP currently pays £95.85 per week.

Unfortunately, SSP is unlikely to be enough to cover your bills. Some employers will provide sick pay for their employees in excess of the statutory amount but there is normally what’s called a ‘deferral period’ before the payment starts.

The alternative option is to set up an income protection policy. This is a personal insurance policy which will pay out a monthly tax-free income while you are too ill to work. This can either be paid for a short term such as 12 months or paid until your selected retirement.

“What if the worst should happen?”

Nobody really wants to think about this question, but a serious illness or death is going to derail your financial plans the most. The simplest way to protect against this is to put life protection in place. Life cover doesn’t have to be expensive and it could make a big difference.

Consider what would happen if you were diagnosed with a serious illness and you couldn’t work for several months? How would you pay the bills? When recovering would you really want the additional stress of your finances? A Critical Illness policy would pay out a tax-free lump sum if you were diagnosed with a serious illness.

Consider what would happen to your family if you were to pass away, how would they afford the bills if you weren’t around anymore. If you have a young family, who would look after your children? Who will pay the nursery or school or university costs if your household income dropped significantly?

Life cover provides a tax-free lump sum or income to your family if you were not around anymore. Again, the main benefit is reducing the burden on your family by taking away the financial stresses.

Victoria Rutland is chartered financial planner at EQ Investors

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