The COVID-19 crisis is hurting millions of Americans financially. Unemployment claims are through the roof while small businesses have been clamoring to secure loans that, at this point, may no longer be available. It's a time when money is overwhelmingly scarce for a lot of people, and when anyone with a steady paycheck ought to be grateful.
And what if you happen to fall into the latter category? What if your earnings are holding steady, only because everyone is forced to stay home, and you're actually spending less money than you typically would during a normal period of life?
If you're managing to retain more of your paycheck -- and maybe have a stimulus payment coming your way to boot -- you're clearly in an enviable position. Here's how to make the most of it.
1. Boost your emergency fund
Just because you're doing OK financially today doesn't mean that will be the case next month, or next year. Even without a global health crisis, you never know when you might fall victim to a layoff or extensive home repair that turns your financial world upside down.
That's why it's crucial to have a healthy emergency fund -- ideally, three to six months' worth of living expenses socked away in the bank. If you're not there yet and are managing to not spend all of your earnings right now, use that excess to boost your emergency savings so you have options when things don't go your way financially.
2. Pay off costly debt
If you're carrying a credit card balance or another type of expensive debt, now's the time to try knocking it out. The sooner you do, the less interest you'll pay. And because we don't know whether COVID-19 will batter the economy to the point where layoffs become even more widespread, the fewer bills you're responsible for, the better.
If you're good on emergency savings and don't have unhealthy debt in your name (remember, a mortgage is a healthy type of debt, and one that can work to your advantage tax-wise), you have a prime opportunity to grow wealth by investing your spare cash.
You have a couple of options in this regard. You can look at researching individual stocks and adding them to your portfolio, or you can buy index funds, which give you broader market access without the same level of legwork. Or, you can do a combination of both.
4. Pad your retirement savings
The more money you put into your 401(k) or IRA, the more you stand to retire with down the line. And if you fund a traditional 401(k) or IRA, you'll lower your tax burden for the current year.
5. Help others
You may be sitting on spare cash right now, but many of your fellow Americans aren't. As such, it certainly wouldn't hurt to use some of that money to help those in need.
You can look at donating to a local food bank, supporting a charity that's involved in COVID-19 relief, or simply helping an out-of-work friend with an interest-free loan. Supporting local businesses is also charitable, so see about buying gift cards to pump money into nearby establishments, or ordering from a struggling restaurant and distributing that food to people who need it.
At a time when so many people are hurting financially, having extra money is something to be thankful for. Make an effort to put that money to good use -- namely, to better yourself financially while also helping those who aren't as fortunate.