The Power of Being Prepared for a Crisis

Chris Powers

The 200-year-old company Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy, unemployment claims topped 30 million, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by almost 40%, and oil futures bottomed driving the price of gasoline down to a near 25-year low.

Thanks to COVID-19, many American households and businesses have been under some form of unexpected financial stress since the middle of March. Although states and municipalities are bringing their respective economies back online, many U.S. households are dealing with managing lower income and uncertainty.

As we reflect, the underlying question exists—could we have been better prepared financially? According to Chris Powers, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Relationship Development at Girard Advisory Services, LLC, part of Univest’s wealth management division, the answer is yes.

Since the pandemic hit, many of us have been taking the opportunity to fix the garbage disposal, clean up our yards, and organize our closets. Some of us are planting box gardens and others are finding new hobbies. If you haven’t included evaluating and reorganizing your finances, you’re making a mistake.

 

1. CREATING A BUDGET

Budgeting is the process of creating a plan to manage your money. The plan itself is called a budget, and it allows you to determine whether you have, or will have, the funds to do the things you need to do or like to do. “Creating a budget is the proper way to reconcile actual household expenses with your income every month,” Powers says. “It’s the responsible thing to do and just smart,” he adds.

Without a budget, you have no real control over managing your household’s costs and run the risk of overextending yourself and accumulating unnecessary debt. Without a budget, it also becomes unlikely to achieve financial goals—especially alongside managing the costs associated with health risks that can occur as your family ages.

Do you have enough money to put your kids through college? Pay for unexpected auto expenses? Plan a nice family vacation? Travel the globe? Or, have a more meaningful retirement? Although budgeting won’t force a change to your behavior, it will help answer all of these important questions, and more. It will help you better  understand where your money is going and where you stand financially. It will also help you understand what changes you need to make and assist in creating a roadmap to pursue your goals.

While we all have bills, most of us don’t know what we’re actually spending every month. Powers suggests gathering bills and running the numbers to determine incoming and outgoing funds. Fixed bills are easy to account for since they are mostly the same each month—utilities, mortgage, car payment, etc. Discretionary spending such as going out to eat, traveling, and online shopping can often be more difficult to track since it varies from month to month. “Whether you’re trying to save for retirement, build an emergency fund, or plan a wedding, look for discretionary opportunities to save or cut unnecessary spending,” Powers says.

“A daily Starbucks can cost $2,000 a year,” he says. You always have choices and there are trade-offs. “Using K-Cups at home can cut this cost in half. Brewing coffee at home using a traditional brew can cut this cost in half again,” he adds.

2. CREATE AN EMERGENCY FUND & MAXIMIZE LIQUIDITY

When creating an emergency fund, ask yourself, how much cash will I need each month? “It all depends on your financial obligations and risk tolerance,” Powers says. COVID-19 is health-related and for the most part out of our control. Unfortunately, we’re never more aware of the need for savings than when a financial crisis hits home. “Plan ahead. When it comes to building an emergency fund, know your short and long-term needs,” Powers says.

A January 2020 study by Bankrate reveals that only 6% of the U.S. population is actively working on paying down debt and building or increasing an emergency fund. “Ultimately, we want our clients to be able to sleep at night,” Powers says. It’s okay to dip into your emergency fund when disaster strikes. That’s why it’s there. He suggests having at least three to six months of cash set aside for bills and discretionary expenses. “To be better prepared, having a year or two of liquidity in place to hedge against a longerterm unemployment challenge should be more commonplace,” he adds.

“In a crisis, cash is king, and you should always have a keen awareness of the amount of money you have in cash accountsrelative to the remainder of your investment portfolio,” Powers says. It may not be wise to invest in stocks or other higher-risk investments until you have a safe cushion of liquidity built. “If you have major obligations like a mortgage or tuition payments, you may want to have more in savings,” he adds.

In an economic downturn or crisis, always turn to checking, savings, money market, and certificate of deposits (CDs) resources first. Unlike stocks, index funds, or exchange traded funds (ETFs), their value doesn’t fluctuate with market conditions. This allows you to withdraw money any time without incurring a loss. Unlike retirement accounts, like your 401(k), you won’t face penalties or incur taxes when you withdraw fundsexcept for CDs which usually require you to forfeit some of the interest you’ve earned if you close them early. To better understand liquidity, have your financial advisor guide you through a personal financial statement at the end of every year.

3. CLOSELY MANAGE BILLS & REDUCE EXPENSES

A sound budget and financial plan practices cost avoidance. You need to cut wherever necessary to manage the household responsibly. In a crisis, get recurring monthly expenses as low as possible, and you’ll have less stress and difficulty paying bills when money is tight. “You can always find ways to cut costs. Start by identifying expense items that may not be necessary,” Powers says.

Take stock in monthly spending. The grocery bill is a good place to start because it has a lot of potential for flexibility and cutting. If you are paying a fee for your checking account, find a better alternative. If you are spending money on cable or a land line, consider eliminating it or finding other less expensive alternatives.

Maybe you’re in the habit of keeping the air conditioner running when you’re not home. Change your behavior to trim utility bills. Shop around for better rates on auto, home, and life insurance. “If you have a plan and work at it, you’ll find a way to save more money. If you need help, turn to an expert in financial services,” Powers says.

A 2019 study by Bankrate reveals that 26% of Americans were late with credit card payments resulting in fees of $3 billion. Eliminating or negotiating these fees can be significant. “Interest charges on a credit card can make up a significant portion of your monthly budgetpay it down as quickly as you can,” suggests Powers.

Focused on what you value, not on what you’re worth

Girard Advisory Services, LLC is a registered investment advisor firm backed by the strength and stability of Univest Financial Corporation−a trusted institution since 1876. Girard’s mission is to provide independent advice that puts the client’s interests first to help them meet the financial future with confidence. A belief in the value of the human connection drives a person-to-person approach and is the foundation of the division’s values:

RELATABLE

Girard’s client-centric culture is created by a team of financial advisors who are passionate about getting to know their clients and understanding what each client values most. They understand the importance of pursuing financial aspirations and leaving a legacy for future generations. 

TRUSTWORTHY AND TRANSPARENT

As an investment advisory firm, Girard offers objective, independent advice. Advisors are sincere, honest, unambiguous, and focused on managing risk. They create long-term plans aimed at balancing risk and reward to help clients pursue their financial goals.

MODERN

Girard is committed to making investments in technology to better serve clients, however, it doesn’t lose sight of the importance of human connection. The person-to-person approach is rooted in tradition, but solutions and technologies are designed to meet the demands of today.

Girard is large enough to support clients through a lifetime and small enough to truly care−a winning combination that’s been helping individuals, businesses, and families pursue their financial dreams for generations.

Key Takeaways

Life is unpredictable. If you want more financial confidence and stability for you or your family, take charge and be prepared once and for all. With summer coming to an end, it’s a perfect time to kick your financial life into gear before the holidays and ahead of next year.

  • Having a monthly budget is essential to keeping track of your financial health
  • Scrutinize bills to identify overspending and opportunities to save
  • Prioritize paying down credit card debt and take stock in your household’s liquidity
  • Perform a personal financial assessment every year

Girard performs financial assessments and wealth planning for individuals and businesses. For questions or consultation, contact
Chris Powers directly at 215-530-6140 or [email protected].

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Girard Advisory Services, LLC is part of Univest Financial Corporation’s wealth management division.

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