If you think storms may lie ahead, it makes sense to prepare your craft for choppy waters. With Australia facing continued economic uncertainty, it may be time to take stock of your finances and get in the right shape.
First the good news. The Australian economy fared better in the first quarter of 2020 than many other countries¹. To the end of March, the economy only contracted 0.3%, compared with 2.0% in the UK and a whopping 9.8% in China.
More challenging times may lie ahead. A century on from the last global pandemic, this looks like a downturn unlike any other in living memory. Back in 1990, Treasurer Paul Keating lamented the “recession we had to have.” This time around, we’re trying to thaw an economy that’s been deliberately placed into hibernation. It isn’t something we’ve seen before, so lessons from previous recessions may not apply.
However, if you’re worried about the threat of redundancy, your investments or your retirement plans being disrupted, there are things you can do to secure your financial lifeboat.
“This pandemic has opened my eyes to what actually can happen at the drop of a hat”²
1. Revise your budget
A realistic budget helps you get a clearer view of what you can and can’t afford.
If you don’t have one already, you can create a view of your total income and expenses, on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly or yearly basis.
There are many free options available, such as a simple spreadsheet or taking advantage of apps or online tools like AMP’s budget planner calculator.
AMP customers can access MyAMP which has the AMP’s Money Manager tool that allows you to add data from over 200 different financial institutions via our secure and encrypted online site. You can also generate graphs of your income, expenses and cash flow.
“There has been a lot of talk about there being a recession and going into another global financial crisis. That’s really scary”³
2. Decide what matters most to you
Reassessing your budget helps you decide what’s essential and what you can put on hold, or perhaps ditch altogether to lessen the strain on your household finances.
Essentials might include your mortgage or rent, utilities or car insurance if you need to keep running a vehicle. Remember that even if something is essential, you might still be able to make a saving on it.
Look for a better deal on comparison sites like Finder, which can help you find potentially preferable offers on everything from car insurance to shopping.
Low interest rates are likely to remain for some time, so this might be a good time to approach a mortgage broker to see if there’s an alternative that’s right for you.
3. Pay down and consolidate debt
Debt consolidation is one way to take control of your finances and potentially pay off your debts sooner.
This means combining or consolidating your debts into one loan with, ideally, a lower overall interest rate. Assuming you can cover your repayments, the lower interest rate means you’ll pay less interest and pay off your debt sooner, as long as you continue to make the same repayments on the original debt. Otherwise the consolidated debt is spread out over the life of the bigger loan.
This approach might also help you simplify your finances by reducing multiple repayments for credit cards, store cards and a car loan for example, into one monthly payment.
Fees and conditions may apply. Check your existing loan terms to see if any early termination fees apply. If you’re applying for a new loan, confirm the application fee costs and eligibility criteria.
Keep in mind that debt consolidation will only be effective if you’re disciplined about making your repayments. And before making a decision, you might like to speak to a financial adviser. If you don’t have an adviser, you can contact us on 131 267 or find an adviser online.
Getting help with debt
If you’re finding it hard to keep up with your repayments, help is available. Call your providers as soon as you can to let them know you’re experiencing financial hardship. They can assess your situation and see if alternative payment plans may be able to assist you during difficult times.
AMP’s support hub has a range of ideas and up-to-date information on how to stay afloat and plan for the future.
You can also access free financial help via:
- The National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007
- Free legal advice from community legal centres and legal aid agencies in every state and territory, and
- Emergency relief if you’re in crisis.
Avoid payday lenders
Payday loans, also known as short-term loans, provide fast cash so they may seem like a quick fix for money troubles. However, you could end up paying back more than you borrowed in higher fees and interest4.
These loans don’t tend to address the root cause of debt problems and can potentially trigger borrowers to spiral into deeper debt distress.
4. Do the hustle
While you sort through your budget, you might do the same for your house. Garages or spare rooms can be a treasure trove, from forgotten kids’ games to clothes you’d only ever need if you get invited to a 90s theme party.
You might be able to turn these into ready cash on eBay, Gumtree or by taking a stall at your local market.
If you’d rather trade your skills than your Friends boxset, you might be able to earn extra income via sites like hipages or Airtasker.
The gig economy means there’s more readiness than ever to use short-term contractors for all types of white collar work. These might even present new contacts and jobs you’ve not previously considered – and lead to more permanent opportunities. You can register online via sites like Freelancer to get started.
5. Keep your eyes on the horizon
As with most investment and super strategies, it helps to look long term rather than thinking only of the next few weeks or months. It’s easy to get discouraged when many forms of media concentrate on negative or shocking news.
Finally, as AMP’s Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist Shane Oliver points out, anyone who got too negative for the long term in the last major pandemic of 1918-19 might have missed out entirely on the ‘roaring twenties’, a decade of economic growth and widespread prosperity.
As we saw with the JobKeeper payment, new initiatives may emerge to help your job search, your savings or your business, so it pays to be as well informed as you can. Listen to experts you can trust such as the ATO and other government sites.
The Insights hub of the AMP website is also useful whether you’re working, retired, or in-between jobs. Here’s where to find regular market outlooks from Shane Oliver.
AMP Bank’s managing money section can help you learn more about good money habits.
Remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling right now, you can access free services anytime, including:
- Lifeline: 13 11 1
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511.
1. ABC News, Australia in its first recession in 29 years as March quarter GDP shrinks
2&3. Interviewee, The Lab Insights and Strategy, Nature https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VU36pemdJk&feature=youtu.be
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