How essential workers with little free time can get their fiscal house in order

Dear Ms. MoneyPeace:

I am a working mom with two children studying from home. I’ve read about making use of time at home to declutter, rearrange financial priorities and consider ways to save. Please write something for those of us overworked who need to improve our financial situation but do not have much time.

As an essential worker, I am working harder and often longer hours, so I am still commuting — no savings there. My husband is working from home. We are both trying to make the most of remote learning school for our children — which means me checking their homework every night.

He works at home yet seems to have more time on his hands and is always looking to buy things online. Property that we do not need is his latest venture.

We have no time to get our wills done, clean out our home or review our spending in detail. Could you share easy tips for essential workers? What can overworked people do at this point?

— Essential Ellen* (*name changed at reader’s request)

Dear Essential Ellen:

Thank you for being an essential worker during this pandemic. There are things you can do to improve your financial situation that do not take a lot of time or energy. You can do one at a time. You can do them with your husband. Or persuade him to get offline and do more to help.

Three things you can do from home with ease:

1. Save cash: Now is the time to start, or build up, a safety account. While you are making money, add to this fund for your future. You still have commuting expenses but, like most Americans, you are spending less on entertainment, eating out and vacation trips.

Make your savings automatic through payroll deduction online. Go to your employer website or portal and begin saving $20 a week, or open a savings account at a bank.

Why take the time? We all have unexpected or emergency situations come up at least every few years. Most people know emergency accounts are a good idea, but they do not follow through. By planning ahead, you build security into your family’s life for the long term.

2. Review and confirm beneficiaries for life insurance and 401(k): Don’t allow this financial update to slip through the cracks. Find your life insurance policies and retirement statements — all of them. Gather retirement statements: IRAs, former company 401(k)s, 403(b)s and profit-sharing plans. Confirm primary and secondary beneficiaries. This can be done at your convenience through the company’s websites.

Your husband may be your main beneficiary, so be sure to include a backup. Because you have young children, consider establishing a trust as the secondary beneficiary. No time to create a trust? If you want the money for the children’s care, name them as backup beneficiaries. Just know in most states the age of majority is 18, and the money will go directly to them if you did not make alternative plans.

This is a two-person project: Each of you must update your own documents.

Years ago, I was a consultant at a life insurance company. The company had had two executives who died, and both had life insurance through the company. The executives had been remarried, though neither updated his beneficiaries. The result: The proceeds of the policies when to their first wives. Anyone can make a mistake. Not taking care of this detail may be very costly.

3. Adjust the asset allocation in retirement investments: As you get closer to retirement, consider changing how you invest.

This is a two-step process:

1. Shift future payroll contributions to more conservative funds in your retirement plan.

2. Change the overall investment allocation. You may currently be invested with 70% in stocks and 30% in bonds. Changing the allocation to 60/40 or even in 50/50 as you approach retirement will lower risk.

Both changes can be made online. Remind your husband to do the same.

Remember, don’t change your retirement contribution even during this volatile economic time. Improve your investments instead.

Why take the time to reallocate? According to Vanguard, the average 65-year-old’s median savings for retirement is $58,035. So keep on saving for retirement, but be smart with how you invest for the future. The stock market is for long-term investors — at least eight to 10 years out.

I cannot encourage your husband to clean more or check the children’s homework. However, since he likes the internet so much, perhaps he can take the lead on updates and changes listed above. Afterward, ask him to find quick dinner recipes online or do food shopping online. Better yet, set up a 529 plan for your two children. Perhaps by having him use his web savvy, he will be busy and begin to lighten your load without spending unnecessary money!

We are all having to adjust our expectations, even of ourselves. This is a difficult time that none of us was prepared for. Most of all, remember you are not alone! According to a TD Ameritrade study, 57% of parents say home schooling and holding a job are too much to manage. Realize everyone handles stress differently, so your husband may be looking for property as a way of checking out and relaxing.

What is your way of relaxing? Take 10 minutes for yourself so you can get through this unprecedented time. You are taking care of everyone at work and at home. These financial tips will help you take care of yourself.

CD Moriarty, CFP, is a columnist forMarketWatch and a personal-finance speaker, writer and coach. She blogs at Money Peace.

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