Dat Pandemic Life: A Millennial’s Eye View of Your Work and Financial Future
Melissa Sweere is SRW’s Senior Strategist and Chief Millenial, and the future President of the United States, probably.
Millennials are known for disruption. We killed Velveeta. We are accustomed to change, and often advocate for it. But we couldn’t have predicted the pandemic, and many of us are unprepared for the change Covid-19 has created for our future.
Sure, we all want our lives to go back to the way they were. Spending time with friends and family face-to-face. Participating in the workday commute (never knew we’d miss that commute). Shopping at a favorite boutique. Taking a walk by the lake.
Unfortunately, this is not reality any time soon. When the shelter in place is lifted, and we are able to do all that again – economically, we are facing a grim, unprecedented situation. That local, cherished boutique may not reopen its doors. You, a friend or a family member may have already been laid off or furloughed from a job, along with another 8.8 million Americans – the most in history. A stimulus check is coming in the mail, but who knows what it actually means, or what to do with it.
It’s overwhelming. So none of us want to think about it. But my fellow Millennials, now is the time to live in the present and focus on the future. The sooner we face the reality of the situation and change ourselves to face the oncoming economic reality, the better off we are. At work and financially, there are a few things you can do to put yourself and your employers in a better position.
WHAT TO DO AT WORK
Chances are you’re working from home. Contact with colleagues is limited to workplace messaging apps and the occasional video meeting. You might feel isolated from the team. You might feel many different emotions. All your feelings are okay. You have a right to feel and process the current situation however you need to. You’re not alone. Everyone from your fellow colleagues to your leadership team are also feeling an array of emotions. The pressure to keep people employed and paid is at an all-time high. For employees, this is the time to shine and be the best support system you can be to your teammates and leaders. Here’s how:
Show empathy to yourself and others
We’re all in this together. Not, like, together together. Not next to each other. But metaphorically together. Our current situation requires adjustments. A team member may not be as tech-savvy as everyone else. A client might have young children at home they need to attend to. A new employee may be alone and struggling with lack of human contact. Regardless of each of our personal circumstances, we’re all human. Demonstrate empathy by getting in touch with your own feelings, and then imagine what it might be like to be in your teammate’s, boss’, or direct report’s shoes. If you feel comfortable, share your feelings about your own situation with others. You’ll be surprised at the warmth and understanding you receive in return.
Help and support colleagues and clients at all levels
In the agency world, we usually work in teams in support of one mission: to best service and advance the client’s goals. Right now, we need to apply that same thinking to our internal teams, too: how can we make our whole team’s lives easier? Leadership teams are stressed. Young employees may feel lost. Reach out to colleagues of all levels to offer support and help. Showcase your talents by offering them to those who can benefit from them.
This doesn’t stop at colleagues, though. Clients are feeling the same burdens. Support them by being proactive in identifying potential changes due to the current situation and offer solutions. If the client asks for something reasonable, but out of scope, don’t turn them away. See what you can do. A little support goes a long way.
Adapt to changes and practice patience
Adapting to changes is ironically routine to those of us in the agency world. However, the changes coming now feel different. A client may reduce their retainer or pull their media. A planned new hire to support on an account or project may not come through. The workload may ebb and flow more than usual.
But by practicing empathy, we can probably guess that the people making these changes are just trying to keep up with the fast-changing situation. With no predicted end date to the economic impact from the 2020 pandemic, they’re bracing for what’s to come. Practice patience while these changes occur in the workplace, and as new norms become established.
WHAT TO DO AT HOME
Facing a recession that could rival the Great Depression, many millennials are overcome with student loans and credit card debt, and vastly underrepresented in the housing and stock market because of it. In 2008 when the last recession hit, the average Generation X adult was about the same age as the average millennial today. However, Generation X had on average twice the total assets that millennials have now. Millennials are ill-equipped to financially handle what is about to hit us, but it’s not too late to take steps to stabilize your financial situation.
Set a budget, today
Start a budget and stick to it, as soon as possible. There are entire apps dedicated to this, so you don’t have to start from scratch. Another common way to budget out finances is using the 50-30-20 rule. 50 percent of your take-home income every month goes to necessities, 20 percent goes to financial goals, such as paying off debt or savings, and the final 30 percent goes towards wants, like having brunch with friends or going to the movies.
The sooner you set a budget and stick to it in an economic crisis, the better off you’ll be. Tracking spending and curbing bad habits helps save money for when you might need it most.
Follow student loan and credit card updates
Saving money where you can will help you prepare for a tough financial period. Take a look at all your lenders, both credit card and student loans, and see if they are offering any reduced rates or forbearance due to the pandemic and the following economic crisis.
Here are a few ways you can put yourself in the best financial position with lenders:
- The federal government has automatically put all federal student loans into forbearance for 6 months with no interest collecting during that time. If you have federal student loans, follow up on your account to ensure your loans have been put into forbearance.
- If you are unemployed and have private student loans, personal loans or credit card debt, contact the lender and see if you qualify for private loan forbearance. If you are not unemployed but in a financially distressing position, this is an option also worth exploring.
Once you’ve put off or reduced monthly payments, what should you do with the extra money? Only spend it on items essential to living. If you are in a position to afford necessities, keep the extra money liquid, meaning on hand, and do not spend it. It is important to have extra money on hand in case something unplanned occurs – and eventually, you will have to pay the bills you’ve delayed.
Use your stimulus check wisely
We’ve all heard a lot about the stimulus checks that will be going out in the next few weeks. To clear up a common misconception, this check is just that: a check. Many of us aren;t too familiar with those. It is not a loan you have to pay back, it is money from the government into your pocket. How you choose to use this money, is up to you, but here’s some advice:
- Option 1: Hold it in an account you can easily access. With the economy coming to a screeching halt, none of us know for sure what our economic situation will be in a month or two. Keeping the money liquid will allow you to access it if and when you truly need it. If you find yourself unemployed, it will offer a buffer until your unemployment check kicks in.
- Option 2: Spend it, but on basic essential items like food. Many Americans live on thin financial margins. If something happens to a job or someone becomes sick, these financial margins can be easily erased. In this case, it is best to spend the stimulus check on basic essential items to continue having your essential daily living needs met.
- Option 3: Spend it, but on paying down debt. Millennials are often saddled with debt, such as credit card debt and personal loan debt. Using the stimulus check to pay down this debt will put more money into your pocket in the future and help further decrease the amount of debt you are in.
- Option 4: If you have your basic needs covered, and don’t need to pay off debt, then the next option is to spend it in the economy. However, don’t spend it on just anything. Put the money towards people who are seeing their livelihoods disappear. Consider spending it at a local small business, your hairdresser, your after-school program workers. Purchasing gift cards at local restaurants essentially gives the restaurant an interest-free loan. Whether it be your favorite coffee nook, local plant shop, or favorite local artist gallery, these are the people affected by the economic situation the most and therefore could use our help.
In short, don’t stick your head under the covers and pretend this whole thing isn’t happening. It’s ok to be scared – everybody is scared. But the best way to start preparing…is to start.