I hope everyone has an enjoyable May Day. For those who work day in, day out, this is usually a well deserved break. But of late, nobody seems to be keen on taking leave, given the rise in no pay leave, shorter work hours (no overtime), pay cuts, and retrenchments.
In some countries, protests and demonstrations have broken out over job losses and poverty. In this moment of stress and uncertainty, the mood is sombre for governments around the world. How do they stem the burgeoning unemployment figures to ensure political stability?
To be sure, many bold steps have already been undertaken to boost their local economies with stimulus packages, cutting of interest rates and loan guarantees but nobody knows how effective these measures will be or how quickly they will work.
For Singapore, the MTI has downgraded growth forecast to between minus 6% and minus 9%. Singaporeans have to prepare for a prolonged crisis. And the swine flu (Hong Kong was infected recently and it is only a matter of time before Singapore is hit) certainly doesn’t make things better.
If the swine flu is not contained effectively, businesses are expected to suffer drastically (followed by more layoffs) if people avoid travelling or going to shopping malls and restaurants. The 1918 flu epidemic killed millions around the globe and while the current swine flu has not morphed into such a virulent strain, there are striking similarities for a severe pandemic.
To prepare for the worst, we should picture an unemployed scenario and get serious about bulking up our emergency fund to meet at least six to eight months of expenses. Now I know that saving up six months of expenses is no laughing matter, especially if you are a credit card junkie and have formed an onerous habit of living from paycheck to paycheck.
However, remember that there could be more months of job losses ahead before the economy emerge from its languidity. Hence, finding your next job could involve endless interviews and many weeks of waiting. Meanwhile, you need cash to put food on the table, pay off your mortgages, auto and credit card loans, insurance and kids’ education. Without cash flow, your assets could be stripped off for pennies on the dollar.
Just for sheer visual impact, look at the number of job applicants in China. They will be willing to do our jobs for less pay and work longer hours.
To those who have always led an extravagant lifestyle, with no notion of an emergency fund and most certainly, laden with credit card debts, they are faced with tough choices. Do they pay off outstanding balances on their credit cards and avoid exorbitant interest charges or build up their emergency fund?
I believe any spare cash should be channeled into an emergency fund and credit card debts is the lesser of two evils. There is no point in paying off all your credit card debts if you jeopardise your cash flow and cannot meet your monthly mortgage payment. That could spell huge financial losses as banks force you to sell your house in a distressed market.
Credit card companies have no qualms about lowering your credit limit, revoking your card or raising interest rates, regardless of your impeccable record of timely payments. You have to appreciate the fact that you may not be in dire straits financially but they are. Thus, paying the minimum sum while bolstering your cash flow (read lifeline) will only strengthen your bargaining position.
Once you have accumulated your emergency fund, you should tackle credit card debts firing on full cylinders. Whittle down the highest-interest rate card first while continuing with minimum payments on the others. That way, you save on excessive interest payments.
It is also prudent to avoid maxing out your credit cards. I always maintain a safe buffer to prevent my credit cards from approaching their credit limits. That will result in higher interest payments as our risk profiles are inevitably higher. We can also try to bargain for lower interest rate by making a simple phone call to the credit card companies.
Take the first step in bolstering your emergency fund today. You will sleep better at night, even without a job, knowing that your assets are safe and creditors will not be knocking on your door.