Being an autistic adult has many challenges and, obviously by this point, we are well aware of them. We constantly talk about the high unemployment rate for autistic adults and how a majority of Americans are unable to cover one month of living expenses.
That all being said, I believe there are some unique struggles that many autistics deal with that we can turn into strengths when it comes to dealing with money. Like the majority of the adult population, we were very likely never taught how to handle money well, to save, and to be financially prepared when things take a turn.
When a crisis that causes a sudden change in finances like what we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 occurs, it can be life-altering in so many ways. Not only are you struggling with the loss of your usual routine in the outside world, but many of the basic necessities you depend on for your day to day life are up in the air as well. I believe there is a huge case for working with a disability. Unfortunately, many have lost their jobs or at least have had their hours cut, making it incredibly challenging to navigate how to handle your finances.
Right now, it just is not helpful to look at the past and all the mistakes we may have made in the beginning of our financial journey. Thinking about how you should have prepared more is something I think many are grappling with. That just is not helpful to you or anyone else. These types of thoughts only lead to anxiety and add to the sense of feeling overwhelmed. There are so many articles being pumped out from the “experts” about emergency funds, savings, retirement, etc. – trust me, I get it. I am one of those people who is constantly becoming educated on all of those things but even I know, right now that is just not helpful! It’s just like someone telling you that you should have had collision coverage on your car after you got into an accident. We’re in a crisis and it just isn’t the time to start talking about what we should have done. We need to talk about what we can do right now.
Now is the time to step back, look at where you currently are and think about where you would like to be. Where do you want to go? From that point, we can move one step at a time to get there in small chunks. Small, incremental steps with a set out plan are often the answer to helping settle the anxiety in our autistic brain.
For example, imagine that you have just lost your job. This is a problem because you relied on your job for income to pay your rent. What is the end goal here? Being able to pay your rent! Now that we have a beginning and an end, let’s plan out the middle!
Financial Advice During the Crisis
- Find out what benefits you qualify for and act quickly. Nothing is wrong with seeking more support and more services when they are at your disposal. If you once received benefits that you haven’t received since being employed, you may be able to re-qualify for them now. Appeal decisions that don’t work in your favor.
- If you have an “emergency fund,” now is the time to dip into it. This is what it is there for. If it helps, try to reconsider your emergency fund as more of a “reserve fund.” This is money you have reserved for a time you need it. You are not setting yourself back by dipping into your reserves, you are using it in the way it was intended.
- If you qualify, your stimulus check will likely have come through by now. If it hasn’t, you can check the status of it here.
- This might be a good time to borrow from your retirement accounts if you have them. That being said, avoid taking from accounts that have harsh penalties. If you have an ABLE account, that can be a great place to start (and if not, add that to the list of things we talk about when we are in a better position)!
- Look into your credit on free sites like creditkarma.com to make sure that everything looks as it should in terms of all of your credit balances and that you are up to date on what is being reported.
- Look at your current spending and accounts. If there are recurring expenses like subscriptions to things that you aren’t using, cancel them! Is now the time to cut everything way down and completely decimate your quality of life? Absolutely not. That being said, there are often expenses we are paying for monthly that we forgot about or that we don’t use or need anymore.
- There is currently forgiveness on payments and interest on all federal student loans owned by the Education Department. No interest will accrue during the administrative forbearance period. There are two sides to think about here. If you do have the funds to make payments on your loan now, your loan will be paid down slightly quicker due to there currently being no interest. However, if you cannot afford to make payments right now, you don’t have to. Several private loan companies are also offering forgiveness, so research all of your options.
- Some utility companies have promised not to terminate service of those who cannot currently pay their bills due to being impacted by COVID-19. The full list can be found here.
- Tax filing has been extended by 3 months to July 15. You do not have to file a return or make payments until that date.
- Beware of shady sales pitches. There are lots of scams right now offering to “help” with financial relief for those affected by Coronavirus. Skip them and talk to your financial planner first.
Try and remember that this is a setback. It happened quickly and it can be devastating. That being said, this is just temporary; it will get better, we will come out of this. Create your lists and your steps, and check things off bit by bit. Use this as an opportunity to learn so that you can start to build a better financial foundation that will leave you in a better place than you ever have been when this is all said and done! There will be a next time – and next time, you are going to be prepared.
Andrew Komarow is an autistic Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of Planning Across the Spectrum. Andrew specializes in helping individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities, achieve financial security. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-855-AUTISM-2.