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UNINTENDED COVID-19 CONSEQUENCES (PART 2)

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When Coronavirus-related financial anxiety keeps you up at night

RORISANG MOGOJWE

It is smack in the middle of the night and you are wide awake. Your thoughts of money are keeping you awake. You try desperately to get some sleep but your mind wanders off to blurry thoughts about having no funds to thrive. And before you know it, you are in a full blown 3 am panic attack.
What begins as a passing thought to pay the bills suddenly leaves you anxious and worried about how you would pay those bills since you have not earned in the last two months, how to climb out of debt or how to make your budget stretch for the month. Damn this coronavirus!
Like many others, you might find yourself on the verge of unemployment. Unlike other situations, the business environment is unpredictable. This situation has the potential to result in financial anxiety, a “money anxiety disorder” which cultivates a feeling of stress, worry and concern about your finances whereby individuals have an uneasy and unhealthy anxiety about engaging with and administering their personal finance in an effective way.
As the pandemic looms larger and we are faced with changing dynamics, the business and employment sector is grappling with uncertainty about the future, which alone has been a devastating blow for many.
Setho Mongatane, a personal finance professional, states that financial anxiety is a monetary monster that haunts many by stoking worry. It can be highly debilitating and can cause significant distress. “In financial behaviour, we describe it as being uncomfortable with the thought or presence of money. Some of the signs include feeling heavily depressed or anxious about finances, discomfort with accumulating wealth, an obsession with being frugal, the inability to change financial behaviour, and insomnia, among others,” Mongatane explains.
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to impact lives in so many different ways, the economic disruption has placed many financially vulnerable people in danger of the most severe hardship. When the national lockdown began, many people said they experienced “high” anxiety, especially the self-employed and those living in rented accommodation. Anxiety levels were sky high even as the government pledged economic relief and food hampers and called on employers not to fire workers as a result of the pandemic.
Although lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease and people are returning to work, the virus is continuing to impact our lives. The economic disruption has placed many financially vulnerable people in danger of further hardship. Even as other national lockdowns ease and businesses reopen, signaling a slow return to normal, many Batswana who lost their incomes during this Covid-19 crisis will still be feeling the economic and emotional toll long after. Many more will continue to worry that their livelihoods could be in jeopardy as companies continue to adjust their bottom line.
Mongatane highlights the power of a rainy day fund, advising individuals to put aside that emergency fund that they have been putting off. “If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is to save,” she says. “It is tough right now, yes, but being able to save money that will help you survive for at least three months should you face unemployment or disruption of income would help cushion the devastating impact of such unforeseen circumstances.
“However, if you find yourself struggling financially and have a limited emergency fund or none at all, focus instead on what you can control. Carefully examine your expenses and reprioritise your spending. Cut out everything but the essentials. Create an emergency budget that is completely stripped down to essential spending only. You may also start being proactive and contact creditors if you are struggling before they reach out to you. They will usually have a number of ways in which they can assist you with economic relief, such as payment holidays.”
Mongatane further advices individuals struggling to pay their debts and to seek additional help through reaching out to non-profit financial advisors or counsellors for tips on financial and mental health resources to help them deal with the stress that comes with these difficult times. “Research around the world has revealed how the financial and employment stresses caused and exacerbated by the pandemic are affecting people’s mental health,” she points out. “So it is important to seek help.”
By the time the virus is under control, many Batswana may find that they escaped it but not the financial trauma of debt and lost income incurred during this time. With everyone dealing with the fear of death and disease, financial strain has become a very real as the unwelcome cherry on top. The time is now more than ever to push for financial literacy among our people. Other avenues of financial help such as free money advice services should be developed for public use to provide free and pragmatic money advice that can help with debt and borrowing, budgeting, benefits, savings and mortgages.

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