I Thought My Money Situation Was Hopeless, but These 7 Tips Helped Me Save and Protect My Mental Health

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So you want to have a healthy relationship with your finances and prepare for retirement, but you’re not sure where to start or how to get there. With Money Talks, three people in different life stages outline their experience of working with a financial professional for the very first time. As it turns out, it’s never too early or late to chat through your goals with someone who can help.

I was recently laid off from my full-time, salaried job, just as my expenses skyrocketed, due to unforeseen medical costs. The rapid-fire chain of stressful events left me in a state of despair around my finances. But following a discussion with Fidelity Investments financial professionals, I was able to create a plan of actionable tips to improve my finances. I created a long-term strategy to help me navigate my current obstacles while keeping an eye on long-term plans, like retirement.

After that conversation with Rita Assaf, Vice President of Retirement and College Products for Fidelity Investments, and Ryan Viktorin, CFP, Fidelity Investments Vice President Financial Consultant, I felt that while tricky, current situation didn't spell out financial ruin. Building upon our discussion, I made a seven-step plan of actionable tips to improve my finances and financial health, assuage my financial anxiety, and work toward effective retirement planning. Here’s what happened when I attempted to execute their advice.

Exactly what happened when I implemented 7 actionable tips to improve my finances

Tip 1: Prioritize searching for a specific type of full-time work

One potential upside of seeking full-time work at a stable, established company is the increased likelihood of expansive company-provided or -subsidized benefits, including fertility costs. This is top of mind for me, because in vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of my upcoming expenses.

How it went: Since I underwent major surgery in the time period since I met with Assaf and Viktorin, I haven't had the energy to dedicate my full attention my job search. Though I haven't made much progress on this front, my résumé is updated and ready to go, and now that I’m on the mend, I plan to attack this “to-do.” Thanks to my takeaways from my chat with Assaf and Viktorin, I now know exactly what I’m looking for, which should make the search more focused and efficient.

Tip 2: Figure out what I need in order to feel sane and safe during this time

My financial strife has certainly compromised my mental health. To help alleviate my distress associated with the prospect of an empty bank account, I paid for new expenses with credit cards—with an eye on interest rates, which I know end up costing more than paying in cash would yield.

How it went: Though debt is associated with feelings of anxiety, as well, I know that I will feel worse if I don’t have cash liquidity in my account for bills like rent. Having a zeroed-out bank account makes me feel panicked, whereas having low-levels of debt for a short-term period (I know interest levels adding to my principal spending render this strategy financially unsafe for any long-term window) makes me feel a lower-grade stress. I make a point to check my accounts often so I never balk at a number and feel comfortable with the charges I am making.

Tip 3. Make the money I do have work harder for me

Assaf and Viktorin brought to my attention that if I move some money in my checking account to a high-yield savings account, it could generate some amount of income passively. This was extremely easy to execute, and I feel great about having done so. I intend to keep a close eye on interest rates so I can quickly pivot my strategy if the current rate becomes less lucrative.

It took just five minutes to transfer the bulk of my cash over to a high-yield savings account.

How it went: After some quick research, I opted for a high-yield account that has a higher annual percent rate (APR) than my current account. It took just five minutes to transfer the bulk of my cash over to that account, and I left enough in my other account to cover a little more than one month’s worth of expenses. Ideally, I will obtain full-time work soon, pay off my debt with that income, and not have to touch this set-aside cash so that it can continue to earn for me. But if I do need to use it, it’s easy to withdraw quickly, which helps me temper my feelings of anxiety.

Tip 4. Keep an eye on my credit-card balances

As noted above, it’s extremely important that I continue to pay the minimum on my credit cards so I don't end up paying down interest that makes my original payments much higher than they otherwise would have been.

How it went: Unfortunately, the balance on those cards did recently increase by $12,000 due to surgery expenses, which means I currently have the most credit card debt I’ve ever had. Still, I’ve been managing to pay considerably more than the minimums while continuing to keep adequate cash in my account. So for the time being, I feel good about this approach. The plan is to pay off the debt in full as soon as I acquire full-time work again.

Tip 5. Construct an airtight new budget

When your financial situation changes dramatically, it’s important to audit your budget to account for those shifts. Assaf and Viktorin suggested I take a look at my expenses with new eyes and make cuts wherever possible from my “nice-to-haves” bucket.

How it went: I looked at my monthly subscriptions and cut as many as possible. Through this process, I discovered I’m paying about $200 per month in fees for memberships including Netflix, Dropbox, The New York Times, etc. Some of these were easy to cut—streamers went first, along with any other entertainment-centric expenses—while others were more difficult because I use them for work. Wherever possible, I asked friends and family if I could temporarily borrow accounts to which I still require access. The total monthly savings of cutting these costs amounted to around $150. It’s not a life-changing amount, but it’s better than nothing.

I've begun asking friends if we can cook at home or meet for a walk instead of going out for pricey meals

I also considered expenses on food delivery, dining out, clothing, and beauty maintenance. As soon as I lost my job, I deleted all of my food-delivery apps, but they’ve occasionally found themselves re-downloaded. But, through this exercise, I committed to excising them for good. This has given new energy to my social life, as well, as I've begun asking friends if we can cook at home or meet for a walk instead of going out for pricey meals.

I've also halted spending on clothing until I secure full-time work and repaid my debt. And I've started doing my own manicures, as well.

Tip 6. Look into fertility-related payment plans

I’m planning to begin IVF in the fall, and that is going to cost at least $30,000. When I told Assaf and Viktorin my original plan to put that expense on credit cards, they suggested I ask my fertility doctor’s office if they offer payment plans or lower rates for paying in cash.

How it went: I doubted my provider would work with me on a payment plan, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn my assumption was wrong. This means that as long as I can pay the amount of each installment, I can avoid accruing interest on credit cards. It's a big win for my finances and mental health. Once I have the ability to save money again, I also plan to open a health savings account (HSA), which would help me saving on taxes immediately and pay for qualified medical expenses through retirement.

Tip 7. Be ready with a plan for when it’s time to start saving again

Assaf and Viktorin suggested that I prepare myself to enact a savings plan for long-term financial health and retirement immediately upon resuming full-time work and paying down my debt.

How it went: Ideally, my new job will offer 401(k) matching or another employer-funded retirement offering. If it doesn't, I'll look into opening an IRA account, which is another tax-advantaged strategy for building retirement savings. Beyond that, I plan to create a college fund going for the child I’m trying to have.

For the time being, I’m working on visualizing what financial health looks like for me, especially if my partner and I are successful in having a child. He’s offered to take on housing expenses and will be, at the very least, splitting the cost of parenting. But we are otherwise planning to keep our finances separate—which is something that’s always been important to me. For this reason, it’s crucial that I set myself (and future family) up for financial health.

The most important lesson I learned from this exercise of meeting with financial professionals to discuss my current situation, goals, and retirement vision is that even when things feel hopeless, there are always actionable financial tips available to improve your finances in some small way. It’s important not to let fear render you stuck, which is the state in which Assaf and Viktorin found me. Now that I see there’s action to be taken, I feel empowered to regain control of my financial situation; I can see a path forward.

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