The COVID-19 crisis has dealt a blow to the economic health of individuals and communities across the country. At the same time, food insecurity has exploded, with as many as 50 million Americans needing help putting food on the table, a 60% increase from pre-COVID-19 times, according to the hunger relief organization Feeding America.
Regularly scheduled food distributions in our community have provided a lifeline for some families, keeping them from going hungry and having to make the difficult choice between keeping a roof over their head, paying to keep the heat on or putting dinner on the table.
The effects of COVID-19 have the potential to be long-term, Feeding America concluded in a recent report. “It took 10 years for food insecurity rates to return to pre-Great Recession levels. For now, with no immediate end to the crisis in sight, demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.”
People who lived through the Great Depression learned and retained some hard lessons about living in lean times. Their personal finance lessons were focused on getting more for their money by building a budget. If they were frugal enough, maybe they managed to stash away something for retirement.
The 2020 Financial Literacy Survey conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling shows Americans don’t know much about personal finance. That’s a shame, because a little knowledge on the subject can go a long way toward creating a much more comfortable and stress-free life.
Those of us in the generations after the baby boomers should already know we can’t rely on Social Security being there when we retire; that’s all the more reason we should be diligent in our financial planning. Young people need to know that the more they can invest now, the better, because of the effects of compound interest.
The basics are simple: Set some money aside for emergencies, pay extra toward your debts until they’re all gone (and stop signing up for more debt), and have a portion of your paycheck diverted to a long-term savings plan like a 401(k) or a Roth IRA. It’s easy to learn more about any of those steps, either online or at your local library.
This year’s report focuses on just how prepared American households are to deal with the financial uncertainties from COVID-19. The survey shows Americans aren’t setting enough aside to help survive a temporary layoff, much less to sustain them through their golden years.
The results show:
■ 62% of U.S. adults have carried credit card debt in the last 12 months.
■ More than 1 in 4 (27%) admit they do not pay all of their bills on time.
■ Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) find it difficult to minimize their debt primarily due to unexpected financial emergencies (19%) or reduction of income (19%).
■ 16% more U.S adults say their household carries credit card debt from month-to-month than last year (43% vs. 37% in 2019).
■ 78% of U.S. adults agree that considering what they already know about personal finance, they could still benefit from financial advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a professional.
Many respondents also expressed financial concerns around savings and retirement.
The majority of adults have non-retirement savings (70%) and the same proportion save a percentage of their household’s income each year for retirement (70%). But the top areas of personal finance worry among U.S. adults continue to be retiring without having enough money set aside (13%) and having insufficient “rainy day” savings for an emergency (12%).
With Democrats fully in control of Washington, Wall Street is anticipating President-elect Joe Biden’s administration and Congress will try to deliver $2,000 checks to most Americans, increase spending on infrastructure and take other measures to nurse the economy amid the worsening pandemic.
“The expectations are shifting to more stimulus, sooner, which is generally better for the economy and better for the market as well,” said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
There’s nothing wrong with working past retirement age, but all too often our bodies, minds and/or job opportunities are reduced right around that point. It behooves all of us, but especially those who have time on their side, to learn about the importance of financial planning and to put that knowledge into practice.
It’s important to put these lessons into practice now because the bills keep coming long after the paychecks stop arriving.