Show Me The (Stimulus) Money!
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Black women are notorious for being able to make a dollar out of 15 cents. But in 2020 we deserve to not simply survive but also to thrive. Though coronavirus-spurred shutdowns and layoffs may have thrown a monkey wrench in our plans to live our best lives, a $2.2 trillion government stimulus effort has provided a lifeline for many of us to capitalize on. So we checked in with a few of our favorite personal finance experts to help three real women in their twenties, thirties and forties spend their stimulus money as wisely as possible. Grab your pen and paper and take notes! 

Sydney Tillman seeks guidance on using stimulus funds

Sydney Tillman 

Age: 25 
Home Base: Brooklyn
Occupation: Publicist 
Annual Income: $60,000
Retirement Savings: $0
Expected COVID-19 Stimulus Payment Amount: $1,200 

Major Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,300
Auto Loan: N/A
Car Insurance: N/A
Public Transportation Costs: $130
Cell Phone: Still on a family plan
Utilities: $200
Food: $350

Financial Snapshot: I’m blessed to not have any credit card debt and no student loans, which puts me in a unique position as a young professional. I was working to build up my savings and I also wanted to treat myself to a vacation abroad.

However, I work in a historically low-paying industry and live in one of the most expensive cities in the country, so my savings account is virtually nonexistent. Losing my job right now is not an option! 

Advice from Bola Sokunbi of Clever Girl Finance:

Since Sydney is currently employed and has no debt, she should consider putting her entire stimulus payment into savings. She’s in a fortunate position: Kudos to her especially for being debt-free!  

It might be wise to pause the vacation planning. Yes, future travel packages are cheap now, however, no one knows how long the quarantine period due to COVID-19 will last or the extent of the impact it will have on our economy. Therefore her focus should be on staying safe and saving as much money as she can, especially given her job security worries. 

She should consider what areas of her essential spending she can cut back on to funnel more money to savings. For example, can she switch from name-brand fashions to generic? Are there any items she can do without having this season?  

This is also a great time to brainstorm ways to create multiple streams of income. Does she have items of value that she doesn’t need or use that could be beneficial to someone else? She can list these items on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay or Poshmark. Does she have skills she can monetize as part of the gig economy? Is there a side-hustle idea she’s had in mind?

Since Sydney is single, once this tumultuous period passes she should set a goal to put six months of core living expenses aside (food, housing, core utilities) in an emergency fund. She can set up automatic deposits to a savings account whenever she gets paid.

This is a convenient time to work on her personal development and focus on her mental health. She can take online classes to improve her skill set and potentially qualify for a better paying job in the future. Many digital learning platforms are offering free or heavily discounted courses and certification programs. It’s also a good idea to take some time away from all the noise in the media to read a good book or catch up on her favorite podcasts. 

While things are scary and overwhelming right now, there will be a recovery.

Get more savvy money tips from Bola at @CleverGirlFinance.

Lauren Jones-Sather seeks guidance on using stimulus funds

Lauren Jones-Sather

Age: 33
Children: 1-year-old son
Home Base: Oakland
Occupation: Communications Manager
Annual Household Income: $146,000
Retirement Savings: $70,000 (combined with husband)
Expected COVID-19 Stimulus Payment Amount: $4,100 (between me, my husband and my father-in-law who lives with us)

Major Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $4,806
Auto Loan: $506
Car Insurance: $300
Cell Phone(s): $193
Utilities: $573
Food: $1,000

Financial Snapshot: My husband and I purchased a home last year. Our household is multigenerational with three adults. We have about $10,000 in an emergency fund. In addition to this, we were also saving to make the switch to solar energy for our house (a cost-cutting measure) prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We have roughly $30,000 in student loans and about $50,000 in credit card and auto loan debt. I was recently laid off so we are tightening our belt. In this uncertain time I wish we had been more aggressive about our savings, but it is what it is.

Advice from Marsha Horton-Barnes of The Finance Bar:

I suggest Lauren and her family add the stimulus payment to their emergency fund. With the current balance of $10,000 plus the payout, this would cover about two months of major expenses. The main focus is to avoid falling behind as much as possible. 

Leveraging Lauren’s communications expertise, she could solicit the assistance of a career coach to refresh her résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn profile. This small investment can open new windows of opportunities. There are many employers still in need of a communications expert, given the current pandemic. Websites such as freelancer.com, fiverr.com and upwork.com allow you to market yourself and offer your skills in exchange for paid projects. Reach out to small-business owners and utilize social media. 

Mobile apps like Digit and Qapital are great resources to use on top of your budgeted savings. Aiming to reach small milestones is key—the first goal can be $500 which will alleviate some month-to-month strain. Instead of focusing on increasing your emergency fund outright, use this time to give yourself some grace. Having a 1-year-old is no small feat, and during such unprecedented times it’s also important to spend some quality time with family. 

Mentally, you are on the right path to cut costs and prioritize what’s of value to you and your family. You’ve done well with saving $10,000. Pat yourself on the back. Your determination and tenacity to push forward will benefit your family tremendously; the next step is to gain clarity. Identify the “why” behind your goals and keep striving! 

Get more savvy money tips from Marsha at @TheFinanceBar.

LaShunda Davis seeks guidance on using stimulus funds

LaShunda Davis-Holbert

Age: 48
Children: 11-year-old daughter
Home Base: Las Vegas
Occupation: Self-employed (fashion)
Annual Household Income: $125,000
Retirement Savings: $10,000
Expected COVID-19 Stimulus Payment Amount: $2,900

Major Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,330
Auto Loan: $0
Car Insurance: $389
Cell Phones: $200
Utilities: $240
Food: $450 

Financial Snapshot: My husband and I have roughly $1,200 in credit card debt. We were trying to save for a major bathroom renovation project prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We had $1,500 set aside in our bathroom upgrade budget but moved it to the emergency fund, which is quickly being depleted. 

Advice from Lynnette Khalfani-Cox of The Money Coach:

First, they’re in much better shape than a lot of folks. Unfortunately, many people don’t have $400 to deal with an emergency. The fact that they have some emergency savings is admirable, although it’s clear that they don’t have enough. They could be doing a lot better based on their income. 

Under normal circumstances I would suggest they use the stimulus payment to pay off debt, but they shouldn’t be too concerned with debt right now especially because their (minimum) credit card debt payments are surmountable. It is most important to conserve cash and shore up savings. They need to prepare for the unexpected. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last. [Editor’s note: LaShunda’s husband is a bartender and relies heavily on tips. The coronavirus has significantly impacted the household’s income and will continue to do so until bars and restaurants reopen for full service.]

They should preserve the $2,900 in a savings account. Their biggest monthly expense appears to be their mortgage so I suggest they negotiate with their lender and find out if they qualify for any mortgage relief assistance. Most homeowners who have government-backed loans through agencies such as an FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac qualify for these types of programs. They should also apply for unemployment benefits. There should be an extra $600 available to them on top of the $450 they would normally be eligible for. Her husband, and possibly LaShunda as well, should get online ASAP and begin claiming these funds.

In addition, they likely qualify for Paid Family Leave (PFL) because of their tween daughter. Schools are closed so she’s at home and needs care/supervision. And because they’re both self-employed (her full-time and him via his side projects), they could possibly access Small Business Association (SBA) loans and grants. Because of COVID-19, these loans could be 100 percent forgivable. All of the SBA red tape of the past is just that, a thing of the past. LaShunda and her husband should absolutely aim to take advantage of as many resources as possible such as the Payroll Protection Program and the CARES Act. This time does not have to be an economic death threat for LaShunda and her family. 

Get more savvy money tips from Lynnette at @TheMoneyCoach.

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