Learning to Pivot
Securing your financial future in a pandemic-ridden world
by Alacias Enger

Chris has been working in the hospitality industry for the past several years, vending for large arena sporting events and concerts in Portland, Oregon. He earns approximately $2,000 monthly, on which he supports his wife, Anita, and their child. Maximizing their budget, Chris and Anita purchased a home more than two hours east of Portland a few years back, leaving Chris to periodically stay with friends and family in the city after working events. Most people in Chris’s industry are considered independent contractors. Because of this designation, his employer does not pay for medical insurance or withhold taxes, leaving him to arrange for these things himself. Since their income is under the threshold for a family of three in Oregon, Chris’s family receives medical coverage under the Oregon Health Plan. Additionally, Chris uses CAREAssist (Oregon’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program) to ensure access to the medications he requires. Chris had recently moved into a supervisory role at work and hoped to go into business for himself within a couple of years. Unfortunately, in mid-March the announcements came. Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, entire sports seasons were cancelled, and concerts postponed until further notice. In just a few short weeks Chris’s entire industry had been ripped out from under him, and the sole breadwinner of this family found himself unemployed.

Anita was considering reentering the workforce once Chris was ready to go into business for himself, but now it seemed her plans were fast-tracked. While shopping at her local supermarket, a canned announcement came over the loudspeaker. They were looking for help. On her way out of the store she picked up an application and within days she had an interview, where she secured an offer. She elected to accept a position where her primary responsibilities would include stocking and pricing inventory, minimizing her risk of contact with COVID-19.

When disaster strikes, the first step is to take stock. Evaluate your strengths and assets. Chris and Anita have their budget on lockdown, knowing where every dollar is spent. They have managed to keep their cost of living extremely low, and through frugality have piled up a four-month emergency savings. Anita’s income lessens the monthly burn rate on their savings to approximately $700.

Next, consider your opportunities. Chris and Anita know that they have additional funds coming. They just received a check for their stimulus, and have another check coming for their tax refund. This is an extra several thousand dollars flowing into their household. Additionally, the CARES Act presents another opportunity for Chris. People that do not qualify for regular unemployment, such as independent contractors, may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Approval could temporarily halt the need to utilize their emergency fund at all.

Sometimes the best financial move to make is to pivot or consider a fundamental change in the direction of your career path. COVID-19 isn’t going away quickly, and it is changing the face of employment in America. Some businesses will come back slowly, and sadly, others might not come back at all. Anita acted quickly to keep some income flowing into their household. If she stays with this position, her union contract entitles her to medical benefits (after a probationary period) for her entire family and a retirement benefit (both Roth and traditional 401k). Chris’s best bet may be to pivot as well. He might not be able to wait for the eventual return of his industry. If you’ve been employed in an industry that’s been annihilated by the pandemic, you may need to ask yourself what skills you already have or could easily obtain that are applicable in the current employment market. How can you pivot? Is there anyone in your life that is willing and able to mentor you as you change directions? As it turns out, Chris’s mother-in-law is a medical coder and has discussed with him the possibility of pursuing this career field in the past. If Chris is really interested, this could be a huge opportunity, especially with a willing and able mentor. More companies have employees working from home than ever, and if Chris could secure a position in an industry that already has a track record for doing so, he could stabilize his income and minimize his own risk of exposure. Chris could complete his certification program in just a few months for less than the amount of their stimulus check. While further investigation of employment opportunities upon completion is warranted, this could be just the pivot Chris needs to secure his financial future.

Alacias Enger is a performing artist, writer, and educator. She lives with her partner in New York City, and is the founder of blogs “Sense with Cents” and “Travel Cents.” Follow her on Twitter @sense_w_cents.