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How To Budget During An Economic Crisis

5 Min Read
Finance

Budgeting is already difficult enough when the stock market isn't fluctuating aggresively every other second. Amidst the continually unfolding economic tribulations due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may have to put in a little extra legwork to manage your finances than you did before. Focusing on the basic principles of distinguishing a "want" versus a "need" will still help you budget, but if you need a little extra help or if you are looking for something productive to during self-isolation (How many days has it been again? Ugh.) here are some tips and tricks for budgeting during an economic crisis.

1. Create A Spreadsheet To Keep Things Tidy

Spring cleaning doesn't just apply to vacuuming the floors and donating your old clothes. The most important step in budgeting is to create a place where you can track your spending and reflect on the monetary goals you have for this fiscal year and beyond. I recommend creating a spreadsheet in Excel, Google, or Airtable. While such a task may stir up some triggering memories from high school financial literacy courses, there are few basic shortcuts that will make setting up your first spreadsheet less frustrating. Or, if the idea of using a spreadsheet feels like too much for you, you could always try out some popular budgeting apps such as Minted. These apps may not be as accurate at tracking your own expenses directly, but they definitely make the process a whole lot easier.

Focusing on the basic principles of distinguishing a "want" versus a "need" will still help you budget.

Ultimately, you just need a space (whether online or in a journal) to spell out various categories like rent, food, transportation, bills, taxes, etc. Color coding, clear labeling, and additional detailed formatting can make the document more approachable when you go back to update your spending later. Even if it all seems like a lot to set up now, once you have it ready to go you'll be able to update your information easily and save yourself the trouble of worrying about your finances once and for all.

2. Clarify Your Income And Necessary Expenses

Since the end of April over 26 million Americans have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. If you have been laid off, the first step is to file for unemployment right away and look into other financial support systems you may be eligible for. You can also use the US government's stimulus check to pay for necessary items and build for emergency savings.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to maintain a work-at-home gig (or be furloughed instead of laid-off), it is still important to be money conscious during a crisis such as this, and take little steps to save for the future. Once you are able to determine your monthly income, you can outline your absolutely necessary expenses so then you can easily review the amount of money you have leftover for savings and incidentals… and maybe a new #WFH outfit, too!

3. Reflect On Where You Can Cut Back

Your first instinct may be to invest in a butt mask like Kesha (yes, that is actually a thing) be careful where you put your money. Due to self-isolation and other restrictions, there are some more luxurious expenses, for example a gym membership or overpriced oat milk lattes, which are no longer relevant. Take some time to think about what you "need" (necessary expenses mentioned above) and what you "want" (a butt mask like Kesha). Making this list may actually be easier now than it was at the beginning of the year: with no more nights out or in-person meetings for work, you may find that you're suddenly spending a whole lot less than usual.

Ultimately, you just need a space (whether online or in a journal) to spell out various categories like rent, food, transportation, bills, taxes, etc.

While entertainment can be essential while we quarantine at home, it is worth cutting back on some streaming platforms, limiting data use, and trying your best to refrain from buying a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Similarly, budget your grocery list by planning out weekly meals, buying non-perishable goods with a longer shelf life, and using up items you forgot you even had in your pantry. Your "noodle budget" should only include what you absolutely need to maintain your health.

4. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Even with a clear differentiation between needs and wants, it may be worth prioritizing those needs even further. This may seem like a scary concept at first, but it's something you need to consider. If you find yourself doing all these calculations and finding that the amount you need versus the amount you are bringing in isn't evening out, it may be time to take some drastic measures. It is worth considering reaching out to your landlord and utility companies who, given the emergency, may have extended payment periods.

Your first instinct may be to invest in a butt mask like Kesha (yes, that is actually a thing) be careful where you put your money.

While putting a part of your monthly paycheck into your 401K or retirement plan, and lowering any debt, may have seemed like a necessary expense in February, put these on the back burner for a moment and focus on building an emergency fund for the current situation. Pay what is due and buy what is vital for your health.

5. Ask for Help

I am not implying you need to go to your family or friends to ask for a loan, but it is important to remember that you are not alone during this emergency. Reach out to your employer, mentors, and friends and ask for more information about how to protect and budget your money, or simply ask what they are doing to save. We all want to maintain the mask that we are confident and in control all the time, but humanity — and financial confusion let's be honest — is what binds us together.

So stop scrolling (after you finish this article of course) and go make that spreadsheet!

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.