Skip to main content


Bills, skills, & wills: Lessons from COVID-19

By Beth Henary Watson

COVID-19 has taught us many lessons: This time of change continues to challenge not just our safety but our emotional well-being and, for many, their financial welfare. 


In a previous article, I explored how certain skills equip you to better manage during a stay at home order. Now that Texas is opening back up a little, let’s reflect on some of the non-health dangers COVID has presented and what steps we can take to shore up our defenses where possible.




Evidently Americans all of a sudden feel the need to hold on to some cash for a rainy day, as the personal savings rate in March 2020 rose 60 percent over the previous month--from 8 percent of income to 13.1 percent of income.1 This is a natural response to fear and to the unknown. After all, the bills don’t stop coming even if your paycheck does.


Financial planners usually recommend a cash stash of several months of basic expenses for emergencies, which could definitely include COVID-19. You may or may not be drawing on such a fund at this moment. However, if your reserves feel scanty, resolve to boost your emergency stash so you can weather a long period without income.


The general rule on bills is that fewer is better. If you’re dealt an unexpected job loss or reduction in hours, it’s helpful to be able to ratchet down your cost of living. Big car payments, credit card debt, and hefty mortgages deplete resources faster than, for example, not having any of the above.


If you have been caught in a COVID-induced income reduction, work to lower your lifestyle costs however appropriate. Even if your job has continued, consider whether a sudden income drop would be a problem for you, and work to keep a good-sized gap between income and expenses.



While debt reduction and expense management are their own skills, other strengths we have or could develop also help protect us from life’s difficulties. These include job skills and adaptability, as well as interpersonal skills.


No matter how long you have until retirement, how have you flexed your learning muscles lately? What have you learned that makes you more valuable in the workplace? When was the last time you deliberately made yourself uncomfortable by taking a class, reading a challenging technical manual, or giving a presentation?


An ability to acquire new skills and adapt makes you a more marketable worker at any age.


A subset of job skills is the ability to manage relationships with others, although this is useful everywhere, not just on the job. With a myriad of government programs coming into play, including mandatory leave in some cases, effectively communicating with your employer is more important than ever, although perhaps more challenging with social distancing.


Keeping up your connections to others can also help prevent the COVID isolation blues on your end and lift the spirits of a friend or loved one--a true win-win!



The cliche “where there’s a will, there’s a way” may apply to one’s motivation to learn something new, but I’m now referring to your Last Will and Testament, as well as other estate planning documents.


There’s nothing like a highly publicized new virus to draw attention to your own mortality, and some estate planning attorneys I’ve spoken with do report an uptick in business. 


A will or trust isn’t the only document you should have in place, though. Just as important are so-called incapacity documents including power of attorney, health-care proxy, and advance healthcare directive (living will). 


Since we can’t know what will happen, lack of any one of these documents could present real problems for your loved ones in the future. (And as an aside, recent retirement law changes may affect your current estate plans, so it’s a good time to revisit these documents even if you have them.)2


In conclusion, the coronavirus caught many unprepared for its draconian social and economic impacts. We can, however, learn from looking around us and take action moving forward to limit any personal upheaval caused by sudden loss of income, death, or incapacity. And we can work to build a greater sense of security by strengthening our skills and social networks. 


What changes have you resolved to make following the COVID-19 disruption?


Beth Henary Watson is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional with Corner Post Financial Planning.




2) “Restructuring Conduit Trust Beneficiaries Of Retirement Accounts To Avoid The SECURE Act’s 10-Year Rule,” Published 3/4/2020, accessed 5/14/2020.


Securities and Advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.