The great lockdown will shape personal finance money management for the next several years, if not longer. Americans will need to save more and borrow less. There is no getting around it.
The pressure for financial prudence will be particularly strong with boomers near or in retirement. Odds are high it will take years for portfolios to recover. Millions of adults of all ages have filed for unemployment insurance. Many unemployed workers will find it takes time to get another job, including older workers facing barriers of ageism and age discrimination.
Even before the lockdown, the typical household didn’t have much in savings. The main reason behind the lack of savings is incomes have stagnated or fallen for a majority of people in recent decades. Many middle- and lower-income households still hadn’t recovered financially from the Great Recession.
The household financial traumas from the Great Recession to the great lockdown say it’s long past time for policymakers to deliver reforms that can reduce economic insecurity. That some 40% of private-sector workers don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan is a disgrace. The flaws with 401(k)-type retirement savings plans are obvious once again. The vulnerability of retirement savings to market fluctuations exacerbates income insecurity. That workers lose their family health insurance when they lose their job has never made economic sense. Social Security’s funding shortfall should end now. Young college graduates are burdened with too much student debt.
In the meantime, households will need to focus on building their own margin of financial safety. Savings protects against downside risks and allows for taking advantage of opportunities.
The path toward more household savings without sacrificing quality of life is by embracing frugality. Marketers and the merchants of debt have long equated living well with owning lots of stuff. Yet we have always known in the back of our mind that what we value are experiences, connections, relationships, learning and creativity. Our weeks of shelter-in-place have heightened our awareness of what matters.
Frugal people live all over Minnesota and elsewhere. They don’t get as much attention as profligate borrowers and conspicuous consumers. Reach out to them and find support on the frugal path to a healthier margin of financial safety and greater financial freedom.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”; commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.