Coronavirus: How to Prepare Your House, Mind and Bank Account

Courtney JespersenMarch 16, 2020
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Coronavirus. It’s dominating the national conversation and changing the way we live and interact. And it’s leading to financial disruptions for individuals and companies alike.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus that was first identified in late December in Wuhan, China. Cases have now been detected in more than 100 countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That includes the United States.

With words like quarantine, outbreak and isolation being thrown around, it’s important to educate yourself about the virus and how it could impact you — emotionally, physically and financially.

We talked to experts to find out how Americans should prepare everything from their mindsets to their medicine cabinets and bank accounts.

Your mindset

First, don’t obsess over the outbreak. It’s easy to feel paralyzed after watching the news and reading social media.

“The element of unpredictability magnifies the anxiety that we have around negative events,” consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says.

In fact, Yarrow says things that are unpredictable are often even scarier than things we know are bad. For example, you may feel worried about whether or not you’ll contract the virus, what it will feel like, if there will be a successful vaccine and so forth.

To combat these fears, Yarrow says to be aware of your anxiety. Then, be careful about the information you take in — making sure it’s from trustworthy sources, such as the CDC or local government officials. Any developments in the spread will be big news, so you shouldn’t have to go out of your way to constantly check for updates, she adds.

Your cupboards and medicine cabinet

Staying calm is important. Still, some Americans are feeling the need to get their houses in order for fear that the virus, and the disease it causes, will spread.

It's a good idea to make some preparations in case you or someone in your house gets sick and your household can't, or shouldn't, be going out to the grocery store or drugstore. Many places are already asking people to practice social distancing by working or studying from home to "flatten the curve" of the number of cases in the community.

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Some "anxious households might want to take the precaution to stock up on long-life storable foods, essential medicines and toiletries,” Ratula Chakraborty, professor of business management at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, said in an email.

New measures like school closings and cancellation of large gatherings are being announced almost daily. New cases of COVID-19 are being monitored and reported almost in real time, which means Americans can stay informed of the current state of the changing situation, according to Dr. Jan Carette, an infectious disease expert at Stanford Medicine.

It’s a good idea to prepare for a disease outbreak the same way you would for a hurricane or similar emergency, by keeping items like these on hand:

  • Medicines and prescriptions.

  • Water.

  • Nonperishable food.

  • Toiletries.

Your emergency fund

Beyond your mindset and pantry, take this opportunity to consider your money. In an ideal world, we should all have an emergency fund in a savings account that covers three to six months’ worth of living expenses. If you don't have this, consider building up your savings with any extra money you can — even $500 to start.

Many workers have already been laid off as bars, restaurants and other businesses close. If you're still employed, think about where you could make budget cuts to start putting away emergency savings. In an extreme situation where you aren’t able to work or leave the house, your emergency fund could help you manage through the crisis.

“That’s what it’s there for, is to help manage your risk when life events happen,” says David Carlson, a certified financial planner and president of Sound Investment Management LLC, in Irvine, California.

Your investments

It's understandable to want to take a look at your financial portfolio, including any investments you have. But Carlson warns against making any panicked decisions in light of recent stock market turbulence.

“If you are already prudently diversified and aligned with your risk profile, time horizon and goals, it is likely your best course of action to stay the course,” he says.

“At this time, it’s important to remember that volatility is the price you pay for long-term positive returns. If you exit the market, then you avoid the pain, but you’re quite likely to miss out on portions of the expected gains. If you’re not invested, your investments can’t recover.”

Your health

Don’t forget about taking care of your body. Know what to look for in the event you or someone around you becomes symptomatic. The CDC says signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Much like you’d try to avoid the flu or common cold, follow common "respiratory hygiene" practices. Here is some advice from Dr. Carette:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or a disinfecting alcohol-based rub.

  • Distance yourself from people who exhibit symptoms.

  • Seek medical care if you come down with any flu-like symptoms.

  • Don’t go to work if you’re sick.

  • Allow time even after you’re fever-free because you could still be shedding virus.

Your readiness

If nothing else, this is a good exercise in readying yourself, your household and your budget for a sudden disaster of any kind at any time.

“It is best to have in place foundational risk management, so you are prepared for these kinds of events because life happens,” Carlson says.

“For example, you want to make sure that you have three to six months’ worth of emergency funds, and you’ve got the proper protections in place, like health insurance, disability insurance and life insurance.”

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website.

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