How To Stay (Financially) Calm During A Crisis

Bernadette Joy
March 31, 2020

In our column #DearBernadebtJoy, personal finance and debt-free living expert Bernadette Joy answers all of your money and debt questions. Today, she tackles a big one that is timely: How can I keep financially calm during a crisis when I’m in debt?

I started my first job out of college in human resources for a Fortune 100 insurance company in 2007. The following year, at 23 years old, I found myself flying around the country shutting down offices and letting people know they no longer had a job. I still remember a man in his fifties in a small office in Columbus, Ohio that I came to bear bad news to. He stared straight at me and said, “I’ve been working at this company probably longer than you’ve been alive. Why do you have a job and I don’t?”

Over the next ten years in human resources for large banks and technology companies, I spent more of my time letting people go from companies than offering jobs. That experience was the foundation for what became my CRUSH framework that helped me pay off $300,000 of debt in three years and what is now giving me the freedom to stay calm, despite my business taking a hit and seeing my income impacted for the foreseeable future.

Here’s how implementing the CRUSH framework can help you keep calm during this unprecedented time while you’re in debt.

C is for cultivating your money mindset.

Before making any rash financial decisions, start training your brain and your emotions to keep the long-term in mind. Ask yourself, are you operating out of fear or are you operating out of prudence? Do you have the best information available to make these decisions? And most importantly, how will this decision impact you in the long-term. For me, this applies to all my investment accounts. I’ll be honest, my IRA is looking pretty sad right now. But I have to remind myself, it looked like this back in 2008 also. I started investing to save for retirement, and this crisis hasn’t changed that. Not sure what to do? This is a great time to educate and re-educate yourself from reliable, time-proven sources (not random, broke people on Facebook).

R is for reverse engineering your life goals.

This is the time more than ever to re-evaluate your life goals, remember why you were excited by them and adjust as necessary. For example, for many of my clients, buying a home is one their goals within the next five years. I’m helping one in particular to start planning for that financially and behaviorally. Even though she is still paying off debt and not ready to buy that home, she is acting like a home buyer or homeowner now. She’s learning how interest rates affect mortgages. She’s studying the areas of town she’s looking to buy in.

For me, I’m taking this time to watch YouTube videos on how to DIY a bathroom, so when I’m ready to buy my next home, I can do it myself. It’s one thing to say I have a goal to be the next fixer upper guru. It’s another to actually take the time to learn what that entails. Bonus: my friends are enjoying watching the progress on my Instagram, and sharing tips with me along the way.

U is for using your resources efficiently.

I stopped saying budget and started saying money plan because having a plan for my money every month is what allows me to continue to stay debt free a year after making my last debt payment. Having a money plan for my household and also for my business is what’s keeping me calm, not knowing what my income will look like in the near future. When I started feeling panicked about my income, I started planning for our expenses next month. I realized things will still be fine, and if they didn’t look fine, I was giving myself extra time to take some preemptive measures, knowing what basic expenses we have coming up, like filing our taxes, quarterly insurance payments and scheduled doctor’s visits.

S is for spending on what (and who) you love.

While the crazies are stocking up on toilet paper, we first focused on what you need to weather this storm, without being excessive. My husband and I have used Instacart twice in the last two weeks to get basics (fruits, vegetables, water, protein). We spent about $35 each time to have plenty of food for the week, even at just about $5 per day for the two of us. No excuse not to cook when we’re stuck at home! We then thought about other items that would make staying at home for the foreseeable future a little more enjoyable. Last, knowing that we are thankfully in a place of financial peace, we thought about others who might want or need some support. 

Now, on my fifth day straight of staying home, I just put in an order for six boxes of girl scout cookies from my niece. Not the most nutritious choice, but some thin mints would definitely be a mood booster, plus I get to show my niece some love today. I’m also checking in regularly with my elderly (and therefore high risk) parents to ensure they have what they need without having to leave the house. Spending wisely is keeping me calm, and spending with a little love is making me feel human.

H is for hustle, hustle, hustle.

My experience during the 2008 recession taught me one of my greatest lessons: never rely on just one income stream. When I personally had to deliver the news of job loss and witnessed the stress and anxiety it caused to others, I promised myself I would not put myself in that same situation. The largest portion of my income currently comes from speaking engagements, which you can imagine has all vanished overnight.

So, I’ve spent the last few days building my passive income (facilitating an online membership community and various online financial education courses), and looking where to cut unnecessary business expenses. I just finished converting my email systems to save me $60 a month, which now seemed obvious to have done a while ago. A client of mine just made $600 in her side hustle delivering groceries and some of my favorite local businesses like SkillPop, are finding creative ways to keep their customers engaged online.

For the non-business owners, hustling can look like organizing your household supplies so you don’t buy stuff you don’t need, finding old furniture or clothes to sell online, sprucing up your resume, getting a new certification, or enrolling in that continuing education you’ve been putting off. Anything you can do to diversify your income generating capabilities, including bettering your own skills, you should use this time to do. For me, that’s practicing my writing skills in articles like this, and sharing what I know to help you crush your money goals, in good times and in bad.

Bernadette Joy is an entrepreneur and personal finance enthusiast based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is currently enjoying #debtfreelife after she and her husband paid off $300,000 of debt (including their home) in three years. Hashtag your personal finance questions with #DearBernadetteJoy or email them to contact@themoneymanual.com. Follow Bernadette Joy at @crushthisdebt on social media for advice on how to crush your money goals and still love your life.