Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease Australia-wide, a new normal is emerging for businesses and employees. Here we explore the roadmap out of lockdown and what lies ahead for our finances.

While it’s too soon to say what the post-lockdown economy will bring, for many Australians life won’t be quite the same as it was before COVID-19.

Record job losses, reduced hours of work and the deferral of dividend payments by listed companies are all set to impact on household budgets in the coming months.

The jobless rate rose to 6.5% in April, which was actually better than many experts had feared. However, hours worked fell by 9.2%, the biggest monthly decline on record; and the underutilisation rate rose to a record 19.9%.

Commsec chief economist Craig James says unemployment is expected to peak near 10 per cent. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Provided social distancing is maintained with good hand hygiene and significant COVID-19 testing, there is no reason that a ‘V-shaped’ economic recovery can’t occur as lockdown restrictions ease,” he says.

So what does the path out of lockdown look like? And how can you recover financially if your income has been affected?

Lifting of restrictions

The National Cabinet has agreed a three-step plan to gradually remove quarantine restrictions between now and July. The carefully staged approach involves winding back limits on the size of group gatherings, allowing certain businesses to reopen and permitting sports, recreation and travel to restart.

The first stage will allow group gatherings of up to 10 people; with some retail stores, restaurants and cafes allowed to reopen, provided strict social distancing measures are in place.

Office workers will be encouraged to continue working from home until at least stage three, and have been asked to avoid public transport at peak hour.

For details of what’s allowed at each stage, you can view the complete three-step framework on the Health Department website.

Each state or territory will move through the stages at their own pace, depending on their circumstances, so always consult your local state or territory health department website for up to date information on what’s happening in your area.

The new normal

The relaxing of restrictions is great news for business owners and employees. However, it’s clear that things won’t completely return to the pre-COVID19 normal for some time to come.

Social distancing requirements will continue to have an impact on many businesses, particularly those in retail and hospitality, while gatherings over 100 people aren’t on the cards as yet.

For many workers who’ve been forced to drop hours or accept lower pay, this could mean adapting to life with a reduced income for the foreseeable future.

Stay on top of your financial health

While it may be tempting to splash out after so long in lockdown, try to keep one eye on your longer term financial health. That means, continue building your savings, and avoid taking on more debt where possible.

Take the time for a financial health check, to make sure you can sustain yourself over the coming months and years as the economy returns to growth.

If you’ve been able to maintain your job through the lockdown, now is the time to reach out to your employer for clarity around how they’re planning to approach the easing of restrictions.

If you took reduced hours, find out from your employer whether this will continue and when it’s likely to be reviewed. Many businesses won’t be able to return to their previous levels straight away. So be honest with your employer about how long you’ll be able to sustain yourself financially if the reduction in wages continues past a certain point.

If you were working in an industry that was forced to close during the lockdown, contact your employer and find out whether there’s an opportunity to return to work once they re-open.

Replacing your income

If you’re unable to get your old job or hours back, don’t despair. Now is the time to be flexible and proactive. Review your resume and consider how you could apply your skills to a different industry or role, to widen your opportunities to find work.

Consider taking an online course to upskill into a new or related area. There are many free and low-cost courses available online. Several universities offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) either through their own websites, or platforms like EdXand Coursera.

Udemy is another platform offering low-cost online courses that are designed and taught by experts in their field. Open Colleges has thisextensive list of places offering free online training.

Investigate industries with future growth potential, such as digital and data specialists, healthcare, science and technology.

In the meantime, seek to conserve your cashflow. Contact your service providers and ask to renegotiate bills and/or delay payment until you’re more secure. Speak to your bank about pausing mortgage repayments; or ask your landlord about rent relief.

It will take time for the economy, and indeed our society, to return to previous levels of activity. But if past shocks have taught us anything, it’s that markets and businesses do recover in time. For now, keep an eye on your finances and don’t be afraid to seek help from a financial planning expert if you need it.

If you have questions about your financial health and wellbeing and would like to create a financial plan, consider speaking to a financial planning professional.