Things no one asked for: a lesson on the Greek alphabet and another COVID-19 variant. Omicron is the latest to surface — and experts say it probably won't be the last. Here's how variants of concern can affect your wallet and the economy.
COVID-19 Variants and Your Money
Since omicron is still new on the scene, its full effect on the economy is TBD. But investors are getting some unwelcome déjà vu.
Following the initial news about omicron from the WHO, the Dow Jones (an index of 30 big US company stocks that many people watch to gauge overall market sentiment) had its worst day since October 2020, falling 2.5%. The S&P 500 (another major index, of 500 large US company stocks) dropped 2.3%. Stocks sank again after the first omicron case in the US was confirmed. The market has had similar reactions when COVID cases driven by other variants were on the rise.
For the bigger picture, looking at the delta variant's damage to the economy can hint at what new variants might do. In the summer, when delta was driving up COVID cases, travel slowed. Restaurants had fewer customers again. Would-be workers stayed home, causing job growth to decline sharply in August and September. And the supply chain hit another bottleneck when businesses slowed down reopening plans. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said omicron could also boost labor market and inflation uncertainties.
How to Protect Your Finances
A few tips to consider:
Mind your savings. Always a good idea, but especially important in these continued *unprecedented* times. If more COVID-19 variants lead to more work problems or a surprise medical bill, having some money set aside for savings can help. Experts recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses. Sometimes more if a lot of people depend on your paychecks or you’re self-employed. Earmark some money from each paycheck, so you're always working toward this goal.
Budget for higher prices. Ongoing supply chain issues could contribute to prices rising even more. Look for ways to make more room in your budget. Think: comparison shopping, cutting unnecessary subscriptions, and negotiating bills.
Diversify your investments. COVID-19 and its variants hit certain industries hard (hi, travel and energy) while “stay-at-home stocks” like Peloton and Zoom got a boost. And vice versa when the economy is more in recovery mode. Spreading your money across many different investment types and industries means that when some funds aren’t making you money, others still should be, no matter where the pandemic stands.
Keep travel plans up in the air. The US and EU recently restricted travel from South Africa (and several other southern African countries) — with some exceptions. And Israel is banning all foreigners in an effort to curb the spread. Staying flexible with your itinerary if possible, and maybe investing in travel insurance, can help you not waste vacation dollars.
Be flexible on return-to-office-plans. Companies may delay heading back to the office (again) if variants continue to pose a major health risk. If job market uncertainty makes you nervous about your paycheck, consider diversifying your income sources. That doesn’t mean you have to take on a second job — a few hours a week spent on an at-home side hustle could put you in a more comfortable financial situation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci — aka the nation’s top infectious disease expert — says a fifth wave of the pandemic could be on its way. That could mean choppy waters ahead for the economy and your wallet. Making some proactive money moves can help protect your finances.
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