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Credit union branch manager Dara Toscano offers four tips for navigating financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DARA TOSCANO

East Multnomah County residents are not only experiencing the health impacts of COVID-19, but also face economic impacts as local restaurants, gyms, entertainment and recreational facilities have been forced to close or curtail indoor services.

In addition to being a lifelong resident of the Gresham community, I am also manager of a credit union branch in Troutdale. My team and I serve as financial partners to our neighbors across Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village. Working so closely with our community, we've seen the impacts of 2020 firsthand, working with people several times a day who face financial challenges and don't know what to do next.

While it can feel daunting at first, taking things one step at a time and remembering your financial institution is available to help will prepare you financially for the New Year. Here are my tips to help you get started:

Organize Your Finances. While it may not be fun, it will save you stress, time and money. Consider the start of 2021 as an opportunity to take a closer look at your budget, debts, accounts and investments. List and prioritize your financial commitments, review your insurance policies, and develop a system to manage important papers and digital documents.

Reduce Household Expenses. After you wrangle your family's finances, begin looking for ways to reduce household expenses. Reduce household utility costs by setting your thermostat to 68 degrees in winter and 78 degrees in summer. Consider cutting down on takeout and delivery by setting aside time on the weekend for meal prep or looking for ways to save money on groceries. Review your subscriptions and determine what you're actually using and eliminate redundant options.

Begin to Build your Safety Net. Once you feel organized and have identified easy ways to save, build your emergency savings fund. Saving three to six months of living expenses can feel like an impossible task, but even by saving $10 per week, you can end up with $120 after three months and $600 after one year. If you are a homeowner, take advantage of today's low-interest rates and consider obtaining a home equity line of credit (HELOC) as a backup option as you build your safety net.

It's Never Too Soon. Building a safety net as an adult is much easier when savings habits are learned as a child. As we realized in 2020, our kids need to be prepared for the unknown as well. It's never too soon to begin building savings skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Start by checking out what kind of accounts your financial institution offers for kids.

As we take stock of 2020, we have an opportunity for reflection and examining how we might have prepared differently. When we move ahead into 2021, the best defense against the unexpected is to take control of your finances and ensuring access to emergency funds. Knowing where to start can be the most challenging part.

Dara Toscano is manager of OnPoint Community Credit Union's Cherry Park Branch.


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