As we enter month 98 (I lost count) of the pandemic and we think about all the things we want to be doing, but can’t, I want to spend a moment to talk about all the things we should be doing but never think about. If there is anything useful about our current situation it is the gift of time we have been given.
Fall TV isn’t coming back anytime soon. A trip to the movies is out. Restaurants are doing their best to provide normalcy, but there is a limit. We can drive anywhere we want…we just can’t stop anywhere. So, we find ourselves staying home, reorganizing our sock drawer, and trimming the rose bushes, again.
But as we spend time trying to figure out what we can do, let’s take some time to consider what we should be doing. The following is a list of financial tasks people should consider using their extra time to accomplish. These are the tasks that don’t make themselves apparent with a visible stack of papers or garden overgrowth. They sit in the back of our mind waiting to be completed but losing our attention to the outside world.
So, with our limited access to the outside world, now is the time to:
Review your credit report. The quickest task on the list, this is an activity we should take on at least twice a year. The government allows consumers one free report a year from each of the major bureaus. Freecreditreport.com will allow you to access information on your open credit accounts, show payment history and other relevant details. You should make sure you recognize all the activity and report anything that looks odd. You may need to pay extra to see your credit score, but that is not necessary except to satisfy your curiosity.
Check the interest rates on your debts and fight for lower ones. It’s likely that a lot of time has passed since the you checked interest rates. This includes mortgage rates, consumer debt rates, school loan rates etc. Since it has been a while, two things may have happened. First, available rates may have gone down (certainly true of mortgage rates right now). Second, your credit history may have improved. While it requires time to contact credit card companies, or mortgage brokers to see what you are eligible to receive, the monthly savings will likely pay for your efforts.
Examine your monthly discretionary expenses and determine which are still relevant or necessary. As time marches on our personal interests grow. It seemed like a no-brainer to sign up for that wine of the month club for only $4.99 a month with ‘no commitment to purchase’. Can’t have wine without cheese or chocolate and there are monthly clubs for those items too. And what’s wine and snacks without a good movie? Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, all good deals. But now there are multiple automatic monthly payments of $4.99 and they are adding up. Especially since these companies hope we forget about the charges and ignore them on our credit card statements. Going through your statements and identifying the services you just do not really use anymore, and subsequently canceling those services, will free up cash flow. It will also make you feel more like a responsible adult than any glass of wine will.
Review your insurances and update where necessary. When is the last time you reviewed your homeowner’s policy? Is the coverage in-line with how much your home has appreciated over the years? If it has been many years since you reviewed your policy, there is a particularly good chance you are underinsured. Likewise, with the items in your home. As we build up wealth, we build up a collection of valuable items, and there is a chance your home owners policy doesn’t cover those items. Jewelry, paintings, sculptures, whether purchase or inherited, may require their own policy. Talking to an agent may be worth your time for peace of mine. This is fire season in California, and there is no better time to make sure your valuables are insured and your insurances are up to date.
Review your estate planning goals. As fires ‘spark’ our concern to protect our belongings, Covid is the impetus to make sure we have our affairs in order if something were to happen to us or our loved ones. There are simple tasks everyone should take to update this need. Review your retirement account and life insurance beneficiaries to make sure they are still people in your good graces. Everyone, regardless of age, should also have power of attorney instructions and health care proxies in place, so we don’t have to worry about our well being when we don’t have the ability to make decisions for ourselves. For more complex cases, this may be the time to review your estate plan and trust documents. Are all your assets listed in you trust? Does your trust still include the proper instructions for your estate to satisfy your wishes? Are there new children not listed in the trust? (This gaffe occurs more frequently than you would imagine). While figuring out what needs to happen when you pass is not the most enjoyable topic, it’s better than refreshing Facebook or Twitter over and over again.
This pandemic is not going to last forever, and there will be a time when we get our time back. When that happens, we will be back to filling our lives and thoughts with friends and family and hobbies and life events. Until then, let us use this time, while we are already bored, to tackle the tasks that are boring. And when we’re done, we can go back to doing nothing.