I saved 15-percent by switching to pandemic. In the past, I’d be happy to save any money, any way possible. After literally living through lockdown, I’ve learned the real value of money. You can always make more money. You can never make more time. Here’s how the pandemic has changed traditional personal finance advice.
Memories Are Worth More Than Money
Like many people, I saved a lot of money after Covid-19 hit US shores. The deliciousness of avocado toast paled in comparison to the risk of getting coughed on, so I spent way less money eating out. I spent less money on gas because I’d been told to work from home since March 2020. I save money on would be vacations because I’m too scared or not allowed to travel to places I actually want to go. Gym costs are down because I cancelled my membership.
Sure, my bank account is flush with new cash saving. But, when the world opens back up, I’ll need to spend all of that money getting a full diagnostic health check on the crumbling infrastructure of my body. The good news is I will have saved money. The bad news is I’ll be too out of shape to enjoy it. I’m already showing signs of the Pandemic-15. It’s like the Freshmen 15 from college, except on this timeline my hairlines is thinning while my waistline is expanding.
Traditionally, saving money by any means necessary was great personal advice. Presently, forced to live on lockdown and/or quarantine, I just can’t help wishing I took more vacation days when I had the chance. The next generation of personal finance “experts” will have to strike a better balance in their financial recommendations. There is a thin line between living on the margins to reach early financial independence and boring yourself to death when you’re still young enough to enjoy the outdoors. As we have all collectively learned, there’s always more time, until there isn’t.
A One Month Emergency Fund Aint Gonna Cut It
One bonus from the pandemic, is the added saving is allowing myself and others to pay down debt and increase their saving at rates that haven’t been seen since the 1980s. Nothing like a pandemic to remind you that maybe you shouldn’t have charged that one burger in college to that credit card charging you 29.99% APR.
Traditionally, you were advised to have at least one month of savings. When the pandemic came and millions were laid off overnight, I believe we collectively realized that 31-days of savings is not enough money for most people to live on.
I’m reminded when a fan of my book told me they had 12-months of cash in a savings account. Pre-pandemic, I told them this seemed excessive. She was probably sleeping soundly with her twelve months of savings while I was tossing and turning in my bed knowing I only had two months saved.
We immediately increased our household’s emergency fund to twelve months too until we were both sure we weren’t going to lose our jobs like so many millions of Americans. We’ve since switched back to investing again. However, we now know that the right amount of money to have in your emergency fund isn’t a simple math formula. The “right” amount is whatever number you need saved to sleep soundly at night.
To that fan, I apologize. You were right. And I was wrong!
Investing Is Still Better than Saving
One piece of traditional personal advice is still true even during the pandemic. Investing is better than saving.
Investing is not to be confused with day trading. Day trading is typically for people trying to get rich quick (and most fail). Investing is for money you need in the next 20-years not for money you plan to gamble in the market over the next 20-days. A quote from my favorite investment book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-tested Strategy for Successful Investing by Burton G. Malkiel advises:
“At least the core of every investment portfolio ought to be indexed. I recognize, however, that telling most investors that there is no hope of beating the averages is like telling a six-year-old that there is no Santa Clause.”
I use index funds. I am admittedly a very conservative investor. Even if this wasn’t true, in the beginning of the pandemic I signed up for a “High Yield” savings account that paid 1.60APY. As of this month, this same account is now paying less than 1%! The stock market might change wildly from month-to-month, but if you are a long-term investor, it is still the best way to beat inflation (which is approximately 2-percent a year). In other words, any year where you don’t increase your income by at least 2-percent, you lose money. Put another way, across the average lifespan $1 will buy about 60% less by the time you reach a retirement age of 67.
Some things change. Some things stay the same. This piece of personal finance advice stays the same. After you’ve fully-funded your emergency fund, investing is still better than saving.
About Marcus Garrett
Marcus is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestselling book, D.E.B.T. Free or Die Trying: How I Buried Myself $30,000 in Debt and Dug My Way Out and a recovering auditor. FAQ: How much debt can you afford on a 30, 50, or $100,000 salary? Find out for yourself at TheMarcusGarrett.com/salary, or follow him on Twitter @TheMarcusGarret and LinkedIn.