Lessons from a Financial Coach: 9/11 Prepared Me to Help Others Financially Impacted by COVID-19
My experience fuels me to empower and motivate others to make smart financial changes
Every day, I use my personal finance journey to help support and provide insight into my financial coaching clients. I draw on the panicked feeling of “how am I going to provide for my family,” that I went through after 9/11, where I worked on the 10th floor of the South Tower.
Today, I see my story in clients who are getting hit hard by this crisis. They’re worried about their finances, along with their health and the health of their colleagues and loved ones. Some are even having to make hard choices between their health and their income. Many are already poignantly aware of the financial risks ahead of them, of losing their home, not paying utilities, or getting lost in credit card debt. They don’t want any of it to happen but they don’t know what they can do to prevent it.
Having my personal financial journey affected by 9/11 taught me the importance of financial health. Being a single mom to a 6-year-old at the time lit a fire in me to seek and utilize all of the resources available to ensure we had food on the table and a roof over our heads. Seeking resources and navigating systems like unemployment and SNAP left me with nuggets of information that I try to share with my clients, my family, my friends — anyone who needs it. It also serves as an important source of empathy required as a financial coach: I truly can understand what my clients are going through, which fuels me to empower and help motivate others to make smart money moves.
Since the stay-at-home order began in New York, my clients have fallen into three categories: 1) those who are financially impacted by the coronavirus and facing job losses, furloughs, or salary reductions, 2) those who are fortunate to be able to work from home and using this time to repair their credit or prepare for the future, and 3) those who are considered essential workers and risking their own health each day while continuing to work and provide for their families.
I recently met with a client who worked at Marriott for 18 years but was recently furloughed. I had to walk her through what resources she may qualify for now, like unemployment and SNAP benefits, how to apply, and what additional resources to look out for or that are still coming. But having coached people for almost 13 years — and having been in her shoes — guiding her through the process was automatic for me.
Some clients — and even family and friends — aren’t losing their jobs, but their salary is getting temporarily cut by 30 to 50%. That’s one thing that’s different between 9/11 and now; people aren’t only being formally laid off. More companies are cutting salaries temporarily or indefinitely to try to prevent layoffs.
Other clients who are fortunate enough to work from home and have more time on their hands are preparing for the future. They’re looking to tap into resources like small business loans or personal loans to help launch a new business. They’re using this extra time at home to work on improving their credit so they’ll be in a better position financially when all of this is over.
Then there are others who are essential workers on the frontlines of the crisis. They’re nurses who are risking their health and their lives to help others. Despite all of the chaos happening in the world right now, they’re still focused and motivated to pay down their debt and improve their credit scores. They do this all while making difficult financial tradeoffs in the middle of it, like whether to take a hazardous pay contract or keep a union job to maintain job protections and health insurance.
Just as I did after 9/11, I’m waiting a while for the dust to settle. I expect more resources to become available and have been researching daily to see what’s new so I can keep my clients informed. The government response has been slower this time, likely because of the sheer number of people impacted rather than just one day, this crisis is rolling out over weeks and months, with no end in sight. These are still only the early days of the financial crisis; I anticipate that clients will likely come in with bigger crises down the line. Being unemployed, they’ll be looking for additional ways they can cut down on expenses and stretch every penny.
Although times are tough right now, I still remain hopeful. Despite how horrifying 9/11 was, the one beautiful thing that came out of it was the way we all came together. Even as the towers were falling and we were in the basement of a nearby building, everyone worked together. It was like a quiet storm. And nobody was left behind.
In times of crisis, everyone comes together — as New Yorkers do because we are New Yorkers — helping each other. And we’ll get through this together, too.