7 Financial Lessons We’ve Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis As a difficult year starts to come to an end, many of us are still facing uncertainty in the months ahead. This year has seen not only an unprecedented global pandemic but a sudden economic crisis that has thrown the finances of millions of households into turmoil. Though there’s debate about the prospects for economic recovery in the coming months, one thing is certain: personal finance management is more important than it’s been in many years. To help our members better manage their finances going forward, we at Affinity have tapped into our most valuable resource: our employees. It’s our employees who offer advice and help to members on a daily basis, and so we decided to canvass our staff – from New Haven, Connecticut to Basking Ridge, New Jersey – on what they’ve learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Asking employees about what they’ve learned both personally and through working with members, we’ve found 7 tips for managing your finances through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, offering words of wisdom from Affinity employees to highlight each insight. 1. Make a budget Look at your financial statements closely. If you never had a budget before now is the time to put it on paper (an app or your computer spreadsheet will work too). Remember a budget gives you control and peace of mind that you need to get through this time. -Stacy Yanosy, Business Banker Making a household budget and taking a better look at unnecessary expenses and making those adjustments is one financial tip I’d suggest. -Cheryl Errico, Senior Business Acquisition Officer Living on a budget helps people become more intentional with their income/live within your means. -Lorraine Romano, AVP, Business Banking Create and stick to a budget. Take the funds you may be saving by working remotely – i.e., gas money, lunch money, dry cleaning – and use them to save for an emergency fund or pay down debt. -Shindora Knox, Branch Manager 2. Have emergency savings Plan for the unexpected. By using a SmartStart savings account or other savings vehicle, it’s easy to save small amounts of money, a little at a time, that will surely add up quickly. Funds can be accessed easily and, are there for a rainy day or, sudden change in employment or income. -Ginny Garbowski, Digital Branch Manager Having a financial safety net has proven to be so important in these unprecedented times. Planning to set aside 3 months of expenses and setting up a savings plan are things that I plan to implement going forward. -Sushant Jain For those getting unemployment, take into consideration that since the extra funds are not taxed they should try to put aside as much as they can as during next year tax season they may have to pay quite a bit back. -Ryker Davis Personally, I’ve learned that one has to save money whenever one gets the chance and have funds for emergencies. Our tomorrow is not promised and as we all can see; one’s savings has been most of our go-to these days. -Priscila Wild Open that SmartStart savings account. You can always use an additional savings to save for the future! -Sharon Muniz I encouraged members to think about starting a savings account, especially if they didn’t have one, and especially when we are offering great rates. -Michelle Parejo-Taylor It is important to keep a savings account for emergencies. Keeping a separate savings account for spending when needed and a savings account for true emergencies helps when there are unexpected circumstances. Open a SmartStart savings account, and save as much as you can each month. -Michelle Lee-Wilson The one thing I tell every one of my members is to start saving or open a savings account for a rainy day. You never know when you’ll need it! -Hugo Ramirez, Business Banker Personally, because my husband is out of work, I have saved the extra funds from the government, as if I never received it, since I have no idea when he will be going back. -Olivia Coppola, Senior Relationship Specialist Working in this industry has taught me how to save – not only for me but for my son. Learning what’s important and needed in life. Not spending frivolously and working hard. So, looking back in hindsight, my lessons were to always put a $1 aside for rainy days. I feel so good knowing my son has an account set up for him when he becomes of age. That’s one thing I promised myself to give him. -Nyeka James 3. Cut out unnecessary expenses In times like these not once cent can be taken for granted, so I have been far more careful of how I spend my money and when I spend it. I’ve made sure to make it my priority to pay bills and cover all necessary expenses before spending money on anything else if at all. -Nicholas Kosanovich, Relationship Specialist Online shopping has been a life saver for necessities that may be hard to get in my area, but it has also posed an issue of overspending. I’ve found that if there is an item I’m looking to purchase but it is not going to immediately improve on my life, I then take the amount of funds I would have used to purchase the item and place it in my savings account. -Kimberly Chase, Relationship Specialist Take time to truly reflect on the differences between necessities and wants. Self-sufficiency techniques, such as growing your own vegetables and fruits, may save up to hundreds of dollars, per season. -Katie Sapo, Member Development Officer We’re watching every dollar we spend now more than ever! -Amanda Girardi, AVP, Retail Branching & Member Solutions Delete shopping and food apps off your phone to avoid impulse buys. -Anna Tarasova, Member Development Officer I learned that you should spend your money a little more wisely as we all can see anything can happen beyond our control and from that I try to do my best with keeping my bills down. -Sherry Morton I cancelled my Sirius/XM Radio in the car. Since I started working from home, I rarely drive and did not need this as another expense. The funds that I was not using for nails, massages and gas were applied as an extra payment toward charge cards balances. -Wanda Grunstein Don’t buy anything big in the near future if they don’t absolutely NEED it! -Nouralis Jalkh I’ve learned to save and pay off debt with the extra money that is not used for lunches, gas, etc. -Tomeika Simmons- Glover 4. Consider debt consolidation or refinancing: I have been advising members to utilize their Affinity loan options. With the recent events, loan rates have significantly decreased. It was a great time for many members to modify their loans, or refinance. They were able to take advantage of the lower rates and help them with their monthly costs while on the road to financial recovery. -Alexandria Brown, Senior Relationship Specialist Take advantage of lower credit card interest rates (balance transfers)! -John Brun, Business Banker 5. Speak with a financial advisor before making important decisions. It is very important to speak with a financial advisor before making decisions about your 401k. Quite a few members were forced to make decisions to either cash it out. It is important to have a conversation with an experience financial advisor to discuss your long-term goals to make sure you are on the right track for retirement. -Afraza Ali 6. Continue building up your credit. Personally, I have learned that a good credit score can be a lifeline. In my case, I had been working on improving my credit score and getting out of as much high interest debt as possible prior to COVID. My debt was so strong that it made it nearly impossible to save any money/establish an emergency fund. The tactics I used (such as applying my tax return and my government stimulus check to my highest interest debt) not only gave me some relief from my minimum monthly payments but also decreased my credit utilization… which, in turn, boosted my credit score. -Bethany Cinque, New Haven Branch Quite a few members have been mentioning the credit boost that Experian has been promoting. I always tell them about our secured credit card! I am finding that a lot of members do not even know about secured loans and how easy it is to have them help build their credit back up. -Kristin Madan 7. Know you’re not alone. I have just been letting members know that in the unsure times we have been having, it is ok to get help from any source to help with deferment, payment arrangements, temporary assistance, etc., to help with loan payments and savings options. Many members may have never needed help like this before, and some seem hesitant to ask for help. But I let them know we are here for them. --Denise Bartkus, Relationship Specialist Right now, everyone is being affected, and I have been trying to give members peace of mind that Affinity is here to help them, and that everyone is going through this. Sometimes just knowing you’re not the only one can help a lot! -Tiffany Pinder The financial challenges of 2020 aren’t over yet, but we’re at least all starting to see what needs to be done and where changes need to be made. Affinity will continue to be here to support you for the rest of the year, and for however long this crisis and downturn last. This information is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person’s circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments regarding the matters related to your condition are made.