By Luke Erickson
So, you knew this had to be an article about COVID-19, right? I mean, has there been any other kind of article since March? Let’s say that hypothetically I managed to go an entire article without mentioning Corona…you’d be like, “Uhh, dude, do you live in a cave or something? And if so… uh, do you have any toilet paper there, cuz there sure ain’t enough out here!” So yeah, corona and your cash…AND your kids. As if dealing with any one of those things alone weren’t enough. Here are a few meandering thoughts to help your cash avoid coronization:
Absolutely do not cash out your 401(k) right now! Maybe I should have started with something a little more subtle. A somewhat lesser known component of the government stimulus bill (CARES act) is that you can, for the time being, cash out your 401(k) before age 59½ without the standard 10% penalty. If you’re thinking about pursuing this option, here is my subtle opinion on the matter: This is just a terrible, terrible idea. DON’T DO IT!
Bless the government and their good intentions, but unless you are literally on the operation table and the doc says, “The only way you’ll live is if you cash out your 401(k) right now,” then perhaps consider it….but ask some pointed questions first. Otherwise leave it alone. Simply put, you’re not just cashing out the current value of your investments, the value of which has already been significantly depressed in the last few months, but much more importantly, you are giving up all of the future earnings those investments would likely produce. In the case of someone about 40 years old, this could amount to a loss of 3 to 4 times the present value of your investments. In this example, this means a $10k cash out would really cost you around $40k of your future retirement value of the investment. If there is another way, that is the way to go.
Reduced income. Many of us have already experienced or will likely experience a reduction in income due to the economic fallout of the quarantine. I don’t necessarily think kids need to know everything about the family finances, but give them a little credit, they know more than you think. They pick up on things and overhear conversations. It is important to remember that kids observing their parents’ financial behavior is among the strongest financial socialization experiences they will ever have in their lives. It’s something upon which they will build their own financial foundation in the future. It’s a teachable moment, where communication can go a long way, not only in getting through current events, but in helping the kids build a strong financial foundation. It’s especially important to teach them not to panic, to handle tough times with dignity and grace. And then, when they’re asleep, that’s when you binge on bon bons and weep for the woes of the world while watching Nicholas Sparks movies on Netflix.
With an entire summer break already under our belts, and at least another one yet to go, and many working from home, families have had a lot more time together. There are challenges with such close and constant proximity, but also opportunities to simplify and get back to basics. Figure out where all the pennies have been going. Cut out the unnecessary fat in our budgets. Remind yourself and your family that attachment to unnecessary expenses usually doesn’t result in much increased happiness anyway.
Make it a fun activity to find ways to reduce expenses. Instead of eating out, teach the kids how to cook. Instead of going to the movies or the other expensive kid activities you used to do, get outdoors and do things for free, like flying a kite or riding bikes. With the cheap gas, go for long car rides into the surrounding hills and hike or explore. Or, just get outside on a nice day and talk to your neighbors. But don’t forget that awkward stutter step as you approach them to clearly signal that you have no intention of getting closer than 6 feet.
Self-care. Whether your struggles involve a job loss or simply an overindulgence in Disney+ because there’s nothing else to do, one of the priorities that all parents should be making right now is time for a little self-care. This means different things for everyone. For me it means getting regular exercise and time away from the family in the morning, so that when I am with them, my mind and body have had a break of sorts, and it is ready (or as ready as it can be) for a day of fighting, screaming over homeschool assignments, and just plain bored kids. This will help avoid stress and impulsive online shopping.
Reading. Though I’m certainly not an unbiased opinion on the matter, I believe that one of the most effective educations you can get is a financial education. It’s something that, no matter who you are, can benefit you in significant ways. Think about it this way: How much time and money does a typical adult spend on education and training to pursue a career and earn a living? Earning money is one side of the equation. But how many of us have balanced the other side or the money equation with a solid education on managing and spending money wisely? The great thing is that there are literally a bajillion books written about personal finances. Yes, many are dry and uninspiring, but there are a good handful out there that are entertaining and just may change your life. Audiobooks are great while driving on all the cheap gas, or while moving around outside and getting exercise and fresh air.
Don’t Corona my Cash webinars. Another great use of your time during the various stages of quarantining is watching our University of Idaho-produced webinars on dealing with your finances during the pandemic. Check out the recordings, which include classes taught by yours truly, at www.uidaho.edu/extension-finance.
Complaining. There are some real challenges to navigating a pandemic and an economic fallout. Your health and your wallet are both being threatened at the same time. Now in places like Chicago, what with all their muggings and murders, this might be commonplace, but here in Idaho it’s taking some getting used to. The truth is that there’s every reason in the world to complain and worry right now. Rumor has it that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., while in jail, was inspired by the verse, “Who of you, by being anxious, can add one minute to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). Though I’m no poster child for following this advice, it makes a lot of sense that we avoid spending our precious minutes imagining the worst, and instead embrace the good around us even if we have to do it by embracing the messiness of life. Now, a tissue if you please, I’ve made myself well up with tears….wait, what? No tissues OR toilet paper?! Tarrrnation! (My last complaint, I swear.)
Luke Erickson, Ph.D., AFC®, is an associate professor of personal finance for the University of Idaho. He lives and works in the Treasure Valley. Luke and his wife Rachel have been married for 15 years and live in Meridian, Idaho with their four energetic children. Got questions about kids and money? Email them to email@example.com; he’ll answer them in future articles.