By Scott Brown EBS CONTRIBUTOR
These truly are unprecedented times. It’s hard to grasp the magnitude and how rapidly life has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of Americans have died and fallen ill, while there are nearly 30 million American’s unemployed and the unemployment rate is approximately 15 percent. That rate is the highest since The Great Depression and a full 11 percent higher than just three months ago when we stood at roughly 3.5 percent unemployment.
So-called “social distancing” is the standard in every aspect of our lives and there remains considerable uncertainty and debate surrounding the path/life of the virus and what acceptable new norms of society will look like as well as how long they will persist.
Despite these harsh realities, I am reminded of lyrics to one of my favorite Foo Fighters songs “It’s times like these we learn to live again.” States are slowly starting to “reopen for business.” Global quarantines both self-imposed and mandated are being lifted. Apple and other “Big Data” companies are seeing clear signs that our fellow citizens are on the move; returning to work, stores, parks etc.
As a certified financial planner, I am also reminded, for many of us this is a good time to build a budget or revisit our household budgets. I believe this to be true whether you are currently unemployed, retired or simply worried about your employment status and the overall state of the economy. It’s also true for small business owners who are concerned about their declining revenue or even the long-term viability of their business.
Budgets are the cornerstone to any long-term financial plan. In fact, budgets are one of the keys to most individuals and households financial success. They are essentially a spending plan that can not only help you identify poor spending habits but can also be the foundation for reaching your long-term life goals.
Starting a budget is fairly simple. In fact, it’s not much different than the planning involved when you are preparing to take an epic ski trip, golf trip or backpacking trip with your buddies. You begin by writing down your total income from all sources. Next, list all of your expenses and attempt to subtract to zero. It is easier to start with a monthly budget and then annualize your budget as you begin to see things more clearly. Annual budgets are extremely important for individuals or households where one or more earners have irregular incomes. This would include those working on commissions or tips, in retail hourly shift work or small business owners to name a few.
Expenses include your fixed expenses like food (beer money), rent/mortgage, car payments, utilities etc. or you can consider these your bare necessities or must haves. Variable expenses are things that are important to you and those you love and generally make your lives more enjoyable. These could include, hobbies, dining out, travel, and even gifting. I can hear Dave Grohl again “It’s times like these to give and give again.”
Finally, it is important to try to budget for savings. Savings are what will drive your version of the “American Dream.” This of course differs for everyone, but for most this would include marriage, home ownership, a new car, sending your kids to college, a once in a lifetime trip with your loved ones and hopefully retirement. Once you have created your budget you will have your own formula for financial accountability, transparency and most importantly success!
I hope you found this helpful reminder to be valuable and that you and your loved ones continue to be resilient and stay well during these difficult times. Remember, before you embark on your next life adventure, set your sites on your goals and keep enjoying the ride!
Scott L. Brown is the Cofounder and managing principal of Shore to Summit Wealth Management. His wealth management career spans more than 25 years and he currently works and lives in Bozeman with his wife and two sons.