The coronavirus pandemic has thrown our lives into chaos, whether you’re a college student returning to school or a parent with school-aged children who are remote learning. Many of these changes come with financial — and emotional — repercussions.
Erika Rasure, a financial therapist and associate professor of business and financial services at Maryville University, talks us through what we should do with our budgets and careers in the face of the pandemic and how to work through our worries, fears, and guilt as we do it.
Here’s what she told Cashay.
Janna Herron: This episode of Money, Honestly, by Cashay is brought to you by USAA. If you're currently serving, a veteran who served honorably, or an eligible family member, they've got your back through every stage of life. To learn more, visit usaa.com.
Hi, this is Money, Honestly. I'm Janna Herron, and today we have Erika Rasure, a financial therapist, and an assistant professor of business and financial services at Maryville University joining us. We'll be talking about how to financially and emotionally navigate the coronavirus pandemic.
Erica, welcome, and thank you for joining us.
Erika Rasure: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.
Janna: So I think the pandemic has affected people in many different ways, especially financially, but even that has been uneven, depending on who you are. So I'd like to talk to you about the nuts and bolts of the financial impact, also along with how it may affect people's mental health. The reason I'm asking you about the mental health part is you are a financial therapist. And so everybody who's listening understands, can you give us a little bit of background of what a financial therapist is?
Erika: Sure. Yeah. A financial therapist is someone who understands that finances are really a conglomeration of those different emotional, relational, cognitive, and behavioral aspects, that we apply to our money. And it's really more of a therapeutic process, that's truly informed by acknowledging that there are plenty of emotions and different thought processes around the way we approach money, and maybe behave with our money. It really is a field that seeks to help people understand that it's okay to feel a certain way, or think a certain way, or behave a certain way; and then delve a little bit deeper into themselves to acknowledge whether that behavior is in line with what they value, or if it varies from what they value. And so it gives us an opportunity to look at both the financial side of things, but also the brain, feeling, and thinking, side of things, and help people understand really the root causes of what makes them do what they do as it relates to approaching their money.
Janna: That's really interesting and helpful too, that there's these two sides. Especially now during a time where we've seen just unprecedented change happening, that's affecting us both in our personal lives, and our professional lives. And our finances. This probably is a good combo to help people figure out how to navigate the pandemic.
I want to start with young adults first. Especially, and you're a professor, so you have a front row seat to this. Many colleges have been forced to go all remote learning after outbreaks occurred on campus, I'm thinking of UNC in North Carolina. Others are trying to navigate opening, or doing some kind of half opening. And for a lot of young adults, this is the biggest financial investment that they've made in their lives so far. So how should they approach, both financially and emotionally, the uncertainty of their schooling this year?
Erika: It's certainly no question that this is a unprecedented time, and both universities and students find themselves struggling. There is a ton of unknown present right now. I pause a little bit when I say unknown, because, it's an overwhelming unknown. It's not the kind of unknown where you're not sure what you're going to have for lunch tomorrow. It's the I don't know what my day today is going to look like on campus.
There are plenty of universities that have gone, especially in recent weeks with the reports of increased outbreaks on campus once students had started returning, that have just made the decision, and it's a very difficult decision to move learning online. There's a lot of implications for both sides on the university side, and of course for this, the student side.
And so for students, especially I think of the freshmen coming in, the students who haven't had necessarily that traditional college experience yet, the rite of passage, if you will. I feel like it's even more uncertain for them. The students who have already been on campus for a little while, at least are familiar with their campus, they're familiar with the campus' response back in the spring, had the universities closed and gone, virtual learning back then. It's slightly more comfortable in some regards to current students who are returning to a university, but it doesn't necessarily make it any easier for any student.
We've got other universities, for example, Maryville, to where we're using a mixed approach, to where we're social distancing in the classrooms, we're working with mixed attendance, we are giving students options. There is such a debate right now about how students can deal with this from the financial perspective. There's plenty of headlines out there that are saying, universities really do need to lower tuition to compensate for the financial hardships that's plaguing students right now with the COVID pandemic. But most universities aren't doing that. And so how do students financially cope with this? We've had lots of students who have lost their jobs. I held my first class today on campus and-
Janna: Okay, wow. Congratulations.
Erika: Thank you. It's the first time I've really been back on campus since March. I found it such an interesting experience because I'm standing in a classroom and it is just me. The classroom is set up for social distancing, all of those things. But the first class is being held virtually.
Erika: As I'm lecturing to a Zoom class, even though I'm in the classroom, it's an eerie, somewhat experience. It's unusual.
Erika: It's very unusual. And while it's wonderful to see the students on Zoom and everybody was there at every, at least in my class, everybody was very engaged. But as I was talking to students about how the rest of the semester is going to look, I prefaced it with, "We don't necessarily know day to day, what's going to happen." I said, "What happens if somebody tests positive while we have one of our in class meetings next week?" Or all of those things, we don't know, day to day, what's going to happen.
And as I was talking to the students, I was asking them during our introductions, "How has the COVID pandemic affected you?" And more than one student said, "I was furloughed from my job."
Erika: Or my internship. I also happen to coordinate a lot of the internships for the school of business, where I teach. And so I really truly had a first row seat to the way students have navigated internships or working remotely. And yet I had another student who said, "I happen to work for Postmates, and I made a ton of money."
Erika: So you have both sides of the camp. How do students navigate? Especially those students who are paying for the tuition themselves, or paying their expenses, whether it be through loans, their student loans, or through their work, their part time jobs and or internships. And for the students who have lost their positions, or find themselves unemployed, the financial stresses I think are significantly greater. And that, of course, takes a huge emotional toll.
We have so many unknowns in the classroom, just what our schedules could potentially look like, depending on what happens, as more students come to campus and we get into the semester. But let's add the added unknown of not knowing where money is coming from. Or perhaps we have a parent who's paying for tuition and that parent was furloughed. And so I think young people, in particular college students, they're absorbing a lot of financial fear and distress because of the unknowns. And so my recommendation for students who are in a financial position that is unnerving, I think is probably the best word for it, is to take a deep breath and start finding a little bit of the silver lining, which of course, in times like this can be very difficult. And by finding the silver lining, really start networking and start reaching out.
So if you've lost your job, and you're having a hard time finding employment placement, this is the time to start reaching out to your campus career centers, or people like me, in whatever respective school or college you're in, that can help put you in touch with people who might know of an opportunity. It's a time to start making some phone calls and start reaching out and saying, "You know what? This is the position I find myself in." Which of course is also a hard thing to do because when it comes to money, people are very hesitant to talk about money and certainly very hesitant to talk about any money issues they're having. Because, our egos are so tied to money, and money is definitely a reflection of socioeconomic status. And college students already have it rough, as it is. We have that running joke of the broke college student or the starving college student, but let's add a global pandemic on it and it makes it even worse.
Erika: So while it's hard asking for help, that's exactly what I'm hoping students will do. And I want to let students know that it is okay to ask for help. You're not less of a person because you are being proactive. And I think it's a mindset shift, and that's where the financial piece and the mental piece come in, is it's changing the way you feel about yourself as it relates to your money situation.
Erika: You're certainly going to feel bad if you are finding yourself in a position where you're broke, or any of those things. That hurts, but equipping yourself with a mindset shift that says, "You know what? I'm not the only person in this position. There are people out there who are willing to help. I just have to get out of my own way, and ask for that help." And mostly preparing yourself for that, it'd be a little rough. But I think many students would find a comfort once they do.
Janna: That's good advice. Thank you. And I'm sure you might be getting those phone calls from students at Maryville. So what about, let's go a little bit older than the college students, about maybe those who just graduated, unfortunately, into this very uncertain job market, and public health crisis. How can they take care of themselves and still focus on their future?
Erika: This is a very tricky demographic. What a time to graduate, right?
Erika: I personally have flashbacks to the 2008 financial crisis, and what that looked like for me back then. It's reliving that same experience, and I'm experiencing it through my students' eyes really a little bit. And it's hard to watch in some respects. Yet, what I'm starting to see is that students are actually naturally becoming more proactive because they recognize that, hey, this is a different business environment that we're operating in. And I think what's really interesting about what has gone on, let's say between March and now, many employers are starting to recognize the value of work from home in a different way. I think being that employees can be productive and effective in a work from home situation. And I think that has resulted in a little bit more flexibility and increased hiring and employers who had maybe taken a little bit of a break from hiring, or had furloughed, and are bringing people back. I think students who have recently graduated, it's similar to the same advice I just gave, is start reaching out to former faculty advisors.
I have a success story. Just recently I had a student graduate in May. Spent all summer looking for a job, and asked me to keep my eyes and ears open, and I certainly did. I got a text message from an employer I work with regularly, and he said, "Hey, do you happen to know anybody who's just graduated, who's looking for a marketing related position?" And I said, "In fact, I do."
Erika: And he was just hired by that company two weeks ago.
Janna: Oh, that's a great story.
Erika: And so if students can, or recent graduates, can loop back with the significant people in their lives during their college experience and say, "Hey, this is the situation." That's exactly what the student did. He said, "You know what? I have been hitting the pavement for two months and I've had no luck. If you hear of anything, will you please let me know?" And I wouldn't have known that, had the student not reached out. And so I think there is a certain benefit of students being able to put themselves out there, and be more proactive, and really think of creative ways to go about getting a position.
I liken this so much to the job market when I was a little bit younger, where we didn't have LinkedIn, and there were limited online applications, and things like that. And it was really going back to that old adage of it's not one but two, and really focusing on who it is. And not only that, it gives you something to do. It gives you some daily tasks to say, "You know what? I need to reach out to three or four people today. Who can I think of?" It's almost being a sales person of your own personal brand.
And I'd really like recent graduates to own that a little bit and say, "You know what? The only thing I'm in control of right now is myself." You can't control COVID, you can't control everything else around you. What you can control on a day to day basis is what you're doing to meet that end. And there is a certain comfort, and what I even consider self care, in taking control of what it is you do on a day to day basis. And that includes how you choose to overcome some of these issues. Sure, we can all binge on Netflix and eat ice cream all day. And I'm not saying that not something you can't do, but for every day that you aren't in a depression bubble, and want to do a Netflix binge, take the next day to put your nose to the grindstone. It's balance. And I'm certainly not going to shame anybody for feeling like they're in a depression bubble, because that's how a lot of this feels like for a lot of people.
Erika: Even those of us who are employed and are lucky to be so right now. We talk to people and people are just blah sometimes. It's nice to work from home, but at the same time, I miss being around people.
Erika: And you get in a black hole of sorts and that's okay. It's really okay to feel that way. Because again, you're not, nobody's the only one.
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I think that really is a good segue into, I wanted to talk about those people who are in their working years, and maybe, like you said, they're lucky and they still have their jobs, but they're working from home. Some people in that situation might even have children who are remote learning from home, or doing a hybrid of sorts. So that brings all kinds of financial stresses up. If you have other people at home, other adults at home, having to work with them, how do you manage that?
Erika: It's overwhelming. It's very overwhelming. Children, and I can say this as a parent, I have a six year old and a four year old. My six year old just started first grade, and my four year old just started pre K, and they started August 17th, so just last Monday. And my daughter, she was in kindergarten last year, and so she spent the last quarter of kindergarten learning from Zoom, which is exceedingly difficult.
Erika: I too was also at home, working from home. My son was home, he wasn't in school at that point. But we were lucky enough to have a nanny. And so the nanny took a lot of pressure, at least off of me, in terms of being able to do my job, but we have to pay for things like that. There's so many people out there who count on their children being in school because not everybody can afford a nanny, or anything of the sort.
When you are a grownup with kids, all the financial pressure of the family falls on you, right?
Janna: Yes, yes, definitely.
Erika: When you have that pressure of trying to work from home and do a good job working from home and the additional fear of not being productive, or being seen as maybe a weaker member of your team, because you are managing kids, or any of those things, and potentially losing your job, you've got all of these things on your plate. It's extremely stressful. When we think about the responsibility, the financial and emotional responsibility of that. When my daughter was doing her Zoom classes in the spring, when she's in kindergarten, it was hard to keep her attention for more than 10 minutes, and after 10 minutes, she was wanting to take her pants off.
Erika: It's hard because they're so young.
Janna: Of course.
Erika: They don't understand. There's the social implications of these little people. When anecdotally I've heard from friends and colleagues who have older kids, is that, while it's a little bit better for older students, the attention span is slightly longer, it's still difficult. The kids are getting Zoom fatigue, and it's stressful for parents, because there has to be some sort of oversight of what they're doing to make sure that they all keep their pants on, right. There's all of that has to be managed plus working. There's all of it.
And then all of a sudden it becomes contained to just your house, and there's no leeway. If you're perhaps like in an apartment situation, when you don't necessarily have a backyard, there's no relief. There's no release.
We have to think about too, the additional outlays of money that families have to come up with in terms of technology expenses. Not all schools provide the technology necessary for the students to learn from home, nor does everybody have a space for it, or a space set up. So are we buying additional furniture, laptops, iPads, any of those things? So we've got potential expenses just of that nature.
We also have to think about food situation too, and food insecurity.
Janna: It's a big problem.
Erika: They say it's a tremendous problem. If kids are getting their meals from school, and they're not, and they're at home, how do we manage all of that?
Issues of like internet connectivity.
Erika: In rural areas, it's not necessarily a thing. Or even additional expenses for who have children with disabilities. I've got a very good friend of mine who has a son who is speech delayed. And unfortunately, the school that they're in has gone to virtual learning, and he's looking into options to bring somebody in house, paying them.
Janna: Right, right.
Erika: To provide additional services. And so there are added expenses that are just significant, or potentially significant.
Janna: Yeah. And you have all of that, and then you still want to be a good parent.
Erika: And then this is what happens, and I speak from firsthand experience. You've got kids at home, you're trying to do good at your job, and you're trying to keep your kids afloat in their studies. And then the parent guilt sets in. The, "I feel like I'm stretched too thin. Maybe I was too sharp with my kids earlier today. Do they know I still love them?" It can be a clash of the titans here.
Janna: Yeah, it's so difficult.
Erika: Because, we're emotionally drained. We're literally emotionally thin. And it becomes overwhelming for parents from a financial and emotional perspective. And of course, it becomes very tough for the little people involved in our lives. For a lot of people, it's chaos.
I think what's more interesting this fall, versus let's say last spring, is that we still have that additional, we have another layer of that uncertainty, that unknown. Sure, some kids are in school. Like my kids are in person on ground. Other school districts are not. Yet the second day of school, where my kids attend school, got an email from the principal saying, "Yeah, we had a student test positive." And so, one of the sixth grade classes has been sent home for quarantine, second day of school.
Janna: Right. There's not that continuity.
Erika: No. And so what happened was, I had a total freak out as a parent on Tuesday. I kept both my kids home from school last Wednesday because I didn't know what to do. You freeze. And so for me, I had to cancel a couple of meetings, and then of course I feel guilty for canceling that. But then I also want to protect my kids, and think through things. And we don't know what's going to happen as the course of the semester goes on. And I think that makes it even worse right now, even worse. Especially from, the emotional side's bad enough, but from the financial side, it's, what happens if my kids have to do remote learning from home? What does that mean for my family, in terms of the financial outlay?
We don't have any money anymore. Both kids are in school full time, and I'm not the only one in that position. Like I mentioned, my friend with the child in speech delay, you have to get somewhat creative. But the scary part is, sometimes there's no creativity, there's no wiggle room. It's not in the budget to have somebody come in. And so how do you manage that time? And then how do you communicate those concerns with your employer? And I think for the most part, employers have been, I can't speak for everybody, anecdotally, I think employers have become increasingly more sensitive to those concerns and issues.
Erika: And I think the thing for everybody to remember, whether you're a current student, or a recent graduate, or a parent, I think the one thing that I think is super important to remember is that, as much as this is terrible right now, and it truly is, is that it's temporary. We don't know when, but there is some comfort to be had in knowing that this is a temporary thing, and temporary feelings are going to apply. Although the situation is temporary, longterm effects will certainly still be there. Just like we saw in the great recession in 2008.
Janna: Yeah. And I have the question about people who unfortunately have lost their jobs, and may have gotten them back, and then lost them again, or have never recovered their jobs. How should they take care of themselves financially and emotionally during this time?
Erika: I think, especially, that is just a unfortunate yo-yo effect. It's do I have a job, don't I have a job? I do have a job, and now, I don't have a job. I think one of the things people can really highlight as they're thinking about taking care of themselves is, maybe taking some comfort in the fact that this is a temporary situation. But temporary doesn't pay the bills. Okay. That's great. You can say that, sure, all you want, it's temporary. It'll be fine. It'll be fine, maybe. But for somebody who's living in the thick of it, it doesn't feel fine. It just doesn't feel fine.
And so what people can do to manage that, I think is accept that, is that it's not fine. Like this is a sucky situation. It has the potential of being that way for a while. So what can I do in the meantime? Can I reach out to people? Can I do something that will enhance my skillset while I wait? I think one of the best things people can do is find a healthy distraction.
Like I said before, it's not easy to keep your mind off of stuff. And I'm not suggesting to find a distraction, the bottomless pit of Netflix, which is fine. It's totally fine on occasion. We all need that. But it's about doing something proactive and recognizing that, I think focusing on things that'll make you feel better and not worse. Because, again, when we get in the black pits of Netflix, and the bottom of the pint of ice cream, it makes us feel worse at the end. It doesn't solve anything.
Erika: And acknowledging that we're not going to solve any problems right away. And taking inventory of the things you're doing that are positive towards either looking for another job, or even possibly considering at this point, a pivot in your career in general. If you've been, let's say in a marketing role for 10 years, and you really like XYZ aspects of your job, and you've been furloughed; well, is there a way to translate those skill sets, and strengths and abilities you brought to that position, into a position that better fits the things you really liked about that previous position?
Janna: Yeah, that's a good idea.
Erika: Yeah. So this is a great time to consider reaching out to career coaches and things like that. And there's a lot of no, or low cost, options out there. I mean, it just takes a Google search to find some resources that are local to you, to take a look at some of those things. But being again, self-reflective, and focusing on those things that will truly make you feel better in the long run. It's not going to necessarily fix how you feel, and that's okay, but it provides a little bit more forward momentum, instead of staying stuck. And I think that's the biggest risk to people right now, is getting stuck, in the uncertainties, this quagmire of the unknown.
Janna: That's good advice. That's helpful, even for me. Thank you. When we look toward the future, to the time where we're past the pandemic, what kind of longterm effects do you expect some people to be dealing with because of it? And also, how can they use this experience to help them in the future?
Erika: I think I'd like to address how it would help them in the future. I'd like to focus on that piece first.
Erika: I mentioned before, that I think a lot of companies have recognized that people do have the ability to work from home and be productive. And I think that's changing, again, the way many employers and corporations are going to be doing business, post COVID, I think. I view it very much as a welcome change, if you will. A new path towards a new work/life balance, which I think could be absolutely amazing for so many people. Not only does it cut down on commute times, and gas expense, and eating out expense, all of those things; it also provides, I think, people a way to be more creative and use their talents in a way that I think has been downplayed in the past. As a, everybody needs to be in the office from nine to five, or we're going to suffer on our bottom line. I think that's changing. I think that's rapidly changing. And so I think there's some significant positives that are coming out of that. And I think it's going to evolve over time.
I also think when we're looking at the way, how is this going to change the way people approach money, or view money, from a very basic financial planning perspective? And I've had this conversation a number of times in the past few months. But the importance of basic financial planning and advice, things like an emergency fund.
Janna: Yep. Yep. That's a very important thing to have.
Erika: If there was ever an emergency, this would be it.
Erika: A lot of people put emergency funds in the context of, oh, what if I blow a couple tires on my car? Or, what if we have a global pandemic? That was on nobody's radar, it truly wasn't. So I think it's going to shift the way we prioritize things a little bit. I think it's going to be like, okay, now I'm going to revisit this concept of the emergency fund, so I don't find myself in this position again. And historically speaking, or anything about the great depression, back in the 20s, 30s, and the aftermath of that. We saw a lot of baby boomers who have a propensity of buying a lot of food. I use my grandmother in example, you can walk into her pantry and she'd have the 25 cans of corn, because of the lingering effects of food scarcity, and the lessons she learned from her parents.
So I think we're going to have, and just the great recession in 2008. I think this will be another one of those big, it can't not be, let's be honest, but this is going to be one of those things where people are going to adopt certain behaviors that are directly tied to the lessons learned from the pandemic. And I think, especially the importance of an emergency fund, looking at what you're doing on a daily basis, that can save you some money by cutting expenses. Because so many people who have been furloughed, or have lost their jobs, and so the first place you're going to go is, how do I cut my expenses?
And you would think that a global pandemic would have a completely devastating effect on people's finances, and it has for a lot of people. But there's also a lot of evidence that's showing that people actually have done a pretty good job saving, if they've had the money.
Erika: They've done a better job, saving. There again, they're spending less time on their commute, so that means less time on gas, or lunches eating out, or happy hour with coworkers. And what those expenses are, those are all of our non-essential expenses. I would love to go see a movie in a movie theater. I miss that experience. I miss taking my kids to go see a movie. But what I don't miss is spending $80 to do it.
Janna: Right. Oh yeah, definitely.
Erika: I think people have had the chance to see those results in their monthly budgets, and they've got a little bit more cushion there, and I think that's going to be hard for people to part with, at some point.
Janna: Right. They'll be able to say, "Oh, I don't need this all the time. This is where I can cut my expenses." They've done it. They had the experience.
Erika: They found experience. And what's even more important is they know they can do it.
Janna: Right. I think of all the people who probably have gotten better at cooking too, during this time.
Erika: Absolutely. And I think that's another, just really longterm benefit of it, is people have gotten really creative. And that's where I see the real positive aspects of this. Employers have gotten creative, universities have gotten creative, but people in their day to day lives have gotten really creative. We've changed the way we entertain ourselves. We're learning to cook, or we're taking up hobbies, or we're spending more family time with our kids. Partly because it's forced, but partly because our kids for example, are spending so much time during the day in class on Zoom. And so, we're I guess, I wouldn't say returning, but also moving forward, to I think a little bit more of a simpler time.
Erika: And again, it's been forced upon us. And it's funny that I say simpler in the same vein of, you're literally relying on all this technology right now.
Janna: Right. True.
Erika: But I think that's it, the technology has become the center of our work and school. And so, as we pull back from that, when we look at the rest of our day, when we're not doing those things, I think people are really focusing on the things that aren't technology-based. And I think that's a good thing. And I think people will overwhelmingly find a greater sense of work/life balance, and really what that means. And find hopefully, a little bit more satisfaction, both personally and professionally, as we eventually move on from this. I think people have had a really good eye opening experience in learning what it is they really like about their lives, and what it is they really don't.
I've actually talked to a number of people who were still employed, but have taken that time to reflect, or taken inventory. Like, I realized I really hate my job. So I'm working from home, I'm looking for a new one.
Erika: And so it's really recreated and re-envisioned, I think, people's value sets, and what's meaningful, and what's important. And I think that's probably the greatest benefit of all.
Janna: I love that. And I think that's the perfect point to end on too, because it is uplifting.
So thank you Erica, for joining us today on Money, Honestly.
Erika: My pleasure. I look forward to working with you again, and talking with you soon.
Janna: And thanks for everyone listening. Head over to Apple podcasts and leave us a five star rating and review. We'll see you next week.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Money, Honestly, by Cashay, brought to you by USAA. If you're currently serving, a veteran who served honorably, or an eligible family member, they've got your back through every stage of life. To learn more, visit usaa.com.
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