Ask Chuck: Practical Advice During the COVID-19 Crisis
Many of the young people in my Bible Study are frightened of the Coronavirus and the threat to their families. I understand their fear. But, as an older American, I’m also concerned about their economic well-being in the aftermath of this crisis. What kind of financial advice can I offer them?
Sheltered in The Storm
Dear Sheltered in the Storm,
We have two crises happening now and you have properly identified a third one. First, the virus has created a very real health crisis. Second, the shutdown of the economy has created a very present economic crisis and third, the government bailout will put us at risk of a future debt crisis and threat to the global economy.
As Thomas Sowell said about our current challenges, “We do not have good choices, we simply have trade offs.”
Living on the Edge
The Coronavirus has revealed the financial unpreparedness of millions of citizens. Aaron Zitner, at the Wall Street Journal reports: “Some 15% of Americans have used, or plan to use, either short-term loans or credit cards that they don’t know they can repay in order to buy emergency goods to deal with the outbreak, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found.” He says others rely on savings or plan to divert money set aside for other things.
It is my hope that many Americans have been better prepared for this event after making financial adjustments following the Great Recession, which started in 2008, by paying off debt, increasing savings and living within their means. Either way, here are some practical and spiritual insights for the young people in your Bible study.
Establish Essentials as Priority
Everyone’s situation is different. Let’s help the young people understand how to deal with the current economic crisis, and we will deal with the long-term consequences of the bailout later. Here’s how I would attempt to help those in your Bible study when meeting one-on-one.
Regardless of what’s happening in the world, everyone needs food and shelter. Pay the bills that provide food, home, and necessary utilities. This is a time to sacrifice wants to provide for needs.
Most middle income families will receive some sort of government assistance money. Establish or grow your emergency savings account. Always keep it resupplied as you are able.
With job cuts right now, childcare and transportation costs may drop significantly. If possible, save that money in an emergency fund for future needs. Even a small amount in a savings account will reduce financial stress and grant margin in your life. Exercising self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) will boost your confidence and grant hope.
Face your bills with courage and hope. Pray over them and ask God to work in miraculous ways knowing He is able to do far more than you can imagine. Avoid fear and anxiety with this verse:
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 ESV)
- Limit social media to avoid online shopping. Don’t give into your (or your children’s) wants right now. Lead by example in love.
- Student loans: this may be the time to refinance.
- Debt: negotiate with lenders to reduce your interest rate or balance. Seek to eliminate penalties. Demonstrate your intent to pay. Avoid maxing out credit cards. Consider balance transfers but read all the fine print. Set a goal to eliminate the debt and the method to get there (I recommend the snowball or avalanche methods). Contact Christian Credit Counselors if you are falling behind.
- Insurance: assess coverage and negotiate the cost. Some coverages may not be a necessity or deductibles may need raised to lower premium costs.
- Make a will. Don’t procrastinate.
- Save: deposit something weekly, or every other week, to develop the habit. Get a fireproof, waterproof safe to keep some cash at home at all times. I recommend one month of living expenses.
- Wisely use your government check if you have an emergency savings account: give a portion, pay current bills, and pay down debt.
- Income tax filing has been postponed until July 15th. If you owe money, set that money aside in a separate account.
- Ask for help. Trade skills: haircuts for food, tutoring for computer help, etc.
- Sell what you don’t need. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist make it easy. Do it safely by meeting buyers in a grocery or government parking lot during daylight hours.
- Look for opportunities. This may be the best time to start a business or take on greater responsibility at your current place of employment. Learn new skills. Take advantage of online classes. Educate yourself by reading, listening to books, watching Ted Talks and documentaries.
- Be generous. There are many suffering at this time. Be exceptionally generous while also being wise and discerning.
Hope for Troubling Times
Those who are frightened, worried, angry, or frustrated must remember they are not alone. God has not left us on our own. In fact, idols are being revealed and priorities analyzed. It’s a time to reorient our lives.
We all know we should live one day at a time. That requires taking one step at a time. But, what if fear overwhelms and you don’t know what steps to take?
Imagine a sailboat drifting in the center of a large lake with no apparent destination in sight. It rocks back and forth, back and forth, unable to move forward. Suddenly, the wind begins to blow. The sails of the boat fill with air. The sailor takes action and strategically directs the boat to a desired destination. The boat glides effortlessly while the sailor works with the wind to safely arrive to shore.
The Holy Spirit is the wind. He fills our sails enabling us to know when and how to move forward. Filled with hope, we develop perspective and work toward our destination.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)
Not Our First Rodeo
Like you, I have lived long enough to have experienced a number of crises in my life. As my friend said, “this is not my first rodeo, but this is the first time I have ever ridden this horse!” We are living through something the world has never experienced. It’s an opportunity to trust God with all our heart. May He fill you and me with all hope so we can proclaim His goodness.
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
For anyone struggling with credit card debt, get in touch with our partners at Christian Credit Counselors. They can advocate for you, helping lower payments and organize your debt. Start your free debt analysis today.
Originally published on the Christian Post, March 27, 2020