Stuck at Home — A 6-Point Personal Finance Tuneup

Looking to build out your sheltering-in-place routine beyond Netflix and Zooming? If you’ve got an internet connection, you’ve got the means to improve your household’s financial security. The payoff is more than just financial; in a time when so much is beyond our control, and taxing our resilience, it feels good to do something that is caring and nurturing. For you and your loved ones:

— Apply for term life insurance. The coronavirus crisis is forcing even the glass-half-full among us to consider. If there is anyone dependent on your income, term life insurance is an affordable way to provide them ample income if you were to die prematurely. For a 45-year-old non-smoker in good (not exceptional) health, you can likely buy a policy that will pay out $500,000, at any time in the next 20 years to beneficiaries, for an annual cost of no more than $700. That’s $60 a month, or about $2 a day. If you’re younger it will cost less; if you’re older, a bit more. Your health status will also come into play, but don’t count yourself out before you shop around. It will likely be an eye opener how available and affordable protection can be.

— Make it easy for loved ones to care for you. A healthcare directive (also known as a living will) spells out the level of care you want if you ever become too ill to speak for yourself. A durable power of attorney for healthcare appoints someone to be your advocate. A durable power of attorney for finances enables the person you appoint to manage your finances.

There are online services that help you create these essential documents on your computer; some will require notarization.

— Double check your beneficiaries. Quick quiz: Who is listed as the beneficiary on every financial account you have, including life insurance? Any deaths, marriages, divorces, births since the last time you reviewed all your beneficiaries?

— Build up your savings. If your household still has ample income from work, the financial and emotional upside of setting aside more money in an emergency savings account needs no explaining given current events.

If you don’t yet have an online high-yield savings account, now’s the time to get it set up. Online banks are federally insured, and typically offer much better yields on savings accounts and certificates of deposits than old-school brick-and-mortar banks.

The best way to save more is to set up an automatic transfer from a checking account into your online savings account. It can be weekly, monthly or quarterly. The payoff is that once you have this set up it will just keep running in the background, building up your family’s security without requiring you to “remember” to save more.

— Marie Kondo your spending. We’ve all been sucked into the rental subscription model, authorizing businesses to charge our credit card automatically for something we signed up for months or years ago. Nothing wrong with that, presuming you still need and use the service. And that you have done a forensic review of your credit card statements to make sure you’re not still mindlessly paying for stuff you don’t want or need. That includes scouring your Amazon and PayPal accounts for recurring charges. Example: that $10 a month fee for a premium streaming channel to binge watch a series two years ago, but you never turned off the monthly charge.

— Move your retirement funds into the lowest-cost options. You can’t control the bouts of (extreme) volatility that hit your retirement portfolios from time to time. Especially right now. That said, patience is rewarded. Over decades, investing produces better returns than stashing all our money in a “safe” bank account. And inflation-beating returns are a necessity to be able to pay for a long retirement.

One investing move 100% in your control, which can be managed from a computer, is to focus on low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Every portfolio charges an annual fee, called the expense ratio. Log on to your accounts and you should be able to easily find the annual expense ratio for each fund or ETF. If you’re invested in funds or ETFs that charge more than 0.20% a year, chances are you can “make” money by moving into a lower-cost option. Investing in low-cost portfolios can increase your retirement savings by tens of thousands of dollars over a few decades, without taking more risk. An added bonus is that if you shift money inside retirement accounts from Fund A to Lower Cost Fund B there is no tax bill.


(Article written by Carla Fried)