As a Millennial, the Great Recession had a bigger impact on my finances and career than anything else. My personal effort, the choices I’ve made, and the financial steps I’ve taken — they all matter, but not as much as the context the Great Recession provided.
Graduating in 2011 meant graduating into the gig economy and a new professional world where benefits like health care or retirement accounts were hard to come by in the workplace. I waited tables for the first three years after college, because the hundreds of job applications I sent out yielded no offers. I had just over $25,000 in student loan debt when I graduated, which put me in good company, as almost everyone I knew also had student loans.
The recession and the world that grew out of its aftermath are what led me to get into budgeting, money management, and investing. My business, Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company, was born out of my own financial struggles and a lack of financial information aimed at me; young, broke, but trying to get it together.
In the first five years or so after graduation, my attention was inward focused: how do I get through this? How do I budget and build an emergency fund? How can I make more money, and where do I put it once I have it? Answering those questions and putting the foundations of stability under myself have largely consumed the last few years of my life. I picked up five side hustles to earn more and paid off my debt. I downloaded Mint and learned how to budget. I opened a Roth IRA, and then a solo 401k. I started a business and learned to manage its finances alongside my own. My financial life stabilized.
“Now, rather than focusing inward, the focus is outward: How do we get through this?”
Then I blinked, and the world changed drastically all over again. As I look around now, and as we all deal with the new world that COVID 19 has created for us, I’m presented with a whole new financial challenge: How do I handle money when the world comes to a stop? My perspective has shifted over the last few years, and come into sharp relief as COVID 19 has made its way around the world. It’s no longer about simply landing a job, or paying off my debt. It’s about sustaining a flow of income when people cannot be closer than six feet. It’s about managing money when businesses shut down each day. Now, rather than focusing inward, the focus is outward: How do we get through this?
Rather than buckling down and pushing myself to check things off my own financial to-do list, I am reaching outward to my community. It’s beyond trite at this point, but we are all in this together. No industry, no family, and no bank account are left untouched by COVID. Whereas normally the American general attitude is to be the lone adventurer pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (a myth that has never really been true, but I digress), now that we are all affected in some way by COVID, from celebrities to politicians to the everyman, and while the severity of what that means will be worse for some groups than others, the need for collective action is clear.
The Great Recession saw people and our society cave in. Though yes, many people experienced waves of financial setbacks, many people found opportunity in the Great Recession. It’s when many people were able to get into the housing market for cheap and then ride the rising housing market wave. It’s when venture capital was able to fund the gig economy entrepreneurs, and the startup unicorn millionaire and billionaire class was really born.
Today is different. We are all at risk of not only physical illness but financial loss as well. Celebrities from Tom Hanks to Idris Elba have gotten the virus. While things like testing and treatment can be bought, total immunity cannot be.
And when we zoom out and think economically, we’re able to see how interconnected our world is. When one person cancels their trip to Palm Springs, the financial loss of their spending ripples through the entire community. An Airbnb host doesn’t get paid, and therefore can’t hire their usual cleaning crew. A museum loses a paying visitor. Numerous restaurants lose the income from meals that that traveler would have bought, and the Uber driver loses the several rides they would have needed.
With the concept of “we” in mind, professional collaborations, community building, and revenue sharing are coming into much bigger focus in my personal and professional financial life. I am gathering the best and the brightest lights in my life and I am asking; how can we work together to provide for each other and ourselves? For example, I’m hosting online events, like the Financial Feminist Summit, a free summit for and by women offering education money workshops and discussions on how to change the financial landscape for the better. I’m paying all my speakers, who are in turn sharing the event with their audiences. We both benefit this way.
I’m also partnering with other educators and professionals to share our offerings, platforms, and products with new potential audiences. I practice financial transparency with my audience, and that’s something else that I’m highlighting more than ever; the more we can see and understand how money is moving in the world and in other people’s lives, the more informed decisions we can make in our own. Creating content and tools based on financial transparency has become a bigger part of my business.
And on the personal side of things, I’m focusing on flexibility and community. How can I cut or extend my current budget if necessary? My partner and I sat down a few weeks ago and created our ‘recession budgets’, a plan of spending for us if one or both of us takes a 50% pay cut. I reviewed my personal savings goals for the year and moved some to 2021 in order to hold onto more cash now.
I’ve committed to eating out at least once a week, from a different local restaurant each week. I’ve placed orders at several local businesses so that they get cash now and I will get a treat for myself in a few weeks. The idea of ‘we’ begins with individual actions and builds to community momentum. Each time I order from a local restaurant, a local line chef gets paid. Buying a shirt from a local fashion line helps pay their monthly rent. Each of my dollars can ripple out to uphold my community.
I’m not sure what a post COVID world will look like for me or for anyone. I’m reflecting on what the post-Great Recession world has meant for me and using that to inform my money decisions going forward. Holding myself with care, remaining open to possibility, and supporting community is the way I’m moving into this next phase.
Kara Perez is the founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Bravely focuses on bringing actionable, intersectional and accessible financial education to people via pop up events and online community. She spends way too much time making money memes on Instagram.
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