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How to pin down your coronavirus finances as tight as possible

Key Points
  • With unemployment at unprecedented levels, household income can start to feel unpredictable. 
  • When unexpected expenses pop up, fewer than half of all Americans can put their hands on $1,000.
  • These strategies can help alleviate some anxiety and keep finances on track. 
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In an uncertain period, money may be the first thing to wobble.

Over the last few weeks, 16 million filed for unemployment. Many more are frightened about job security. It's an excellent time to strive for some peace of mind by smoothing out unpredictability during the quarantine.

To make matters worse, unexpected expenses can still pop up, and fewer than half of all Americans can put their hands on $1,000 for an emergency.

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A few financial strategies are essential, says Sa El, a licensed independent insurance agent and co-founder of Simply Insurance in Atlanta. Not only does El, 35, run his own companyhe also works in an industry that can have built-in unpredictability in pay.

El never knows what his income actually is until six months after a sale. "It might look like you're getting $3,000, but in fact you only get $1,500," he said.

Here's how to smooth out the jagged edges of an up-and-down income.

Look at line items

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Get to know your money and what you spend every month, says Joe McLean, a money manager for NBA stars.

"Once you know what it costs to be you, then you can figure out how to make it cost less," said McLean, founder of financial services firm Intersect Capital in San Ramon, California.

For example, you may be paying monthly for apps you don't use. On an iPhone, look at your ID under settings, check "Apple Store" and scroll down to "subscriptions." It will show you any apps that are charging you regularly. Or open the Google Play Store app on your Android phone and tap the menu button to see all your subscriptions.

Set up alerts on your phone every time your debit/credit card is charged. You can see when money leaves your account — also good for fraud protection.

Keep saving

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Stashing money when you don't know how much is coming in can be a challenge, so commit to saving a percentage of income, says Winnie Sun, founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California.

That way, you don't have to think of a specific monthly dollar amount. Aim for 10% to 20% if possible, or even 3% to 4% when money is tighter.

"You can always gear it back up the next month or when your situation changes," Sun said. "Be sure to automate your savings."

Have a cash cushion

Three tips for how to build an emergency fund
Three tips for how to build an emergency fund

Everyone needs an emergency fund.

El recommends saving a year's worth of cash. "It's super-important to have savings," he said. "During your good times, save-save-save like crazy."

Keep your money in something liquid, Sun says, like either a checking or savings account. You can also withdraw contributions (but not earnings) from a Roth individual retirement account at any time without penalties or taxes. "Ideally you don't touch it, but if you need to, that's what it's there for," she said.

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CHECK OUT: How your coronavirus stimulus check could affect your 2020 taxes, according to tax experts via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

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