As the coronavirus pandemic continues to put people out of work, Americans are starting to take action when it comes to their money.
More than half, 55%, have or plan to change their retirement contributions — and of that group, 54% are contributing less to have more cash on hand. That's according to an April 2020 MassMutual poll of 1,000 Americans.
Should you make changes, too?
To figure out, start by asking yourself a few questions, says Teresa Hassara, head of MassMutual's workplace solutions business, which serves more than 32,000 retirement plans. For starters, do you have an emergency fund? And can it cover three months' worth of living expenses?
If the answer is no, take the money you'd normally save for retirement and put it into an account for emergencies, Hassara recommends. "We always want to encourage people to develop a retirement savings habit," she tells CNBC Make It. "That said, people need a minimum of three months' of income in an emergency savings account — and if they can get to six to eight, that's a better place to be."
It's crucial to have an emergency fund right now. The U.S. does not have federally mandated paid sick leave, so if you fall ill and have to miss work, or lose your job because of the economic downturn, you'll want a cash cushion to fall back on when you're not getting a paycheck.
Plus, having a healthy savings account will give you much needed peace of mind during times of uncertainty like right now.
If you have the minimum three months' worth of expenses saved, and you're trying to decide whether to build up that fund more or prioritize retirement savings, ask yourself a few more questions, says Hassara: "Is my job in a distressed industry? Do I work for a distressed company? Am I an essential employee? What's the likelihood of my being terminated in the near future?
"The answers to those questions help inform the emphasis that you should place on building up that emergency savings, where you'd have quick access to that money."
The less stable your job, the more you should save. If your income fluctuates depending on commissions, overtime pay or other external factors, ideally you'll save closer to six to eight months' worth of expenses.
If you have a fully stocked emergency fund and are considering dialing back on retirement savings just because you're afraid of market turbulence right now, resist the urge and continue setting aside a portion of you income, ideally 10-15%, for the future.
The same MassMutual survey found that, of those planning to change their retirement contributions, 22% want to contribute more to take advantage of market fluctuation. If you're young and have a long time horizon, and can afford to invest more, now can be a good time to do so.
"The more that you can invest now and buy low, the better opportunity you'll have to grow your savings and investments as the markets rise in the future," says Hassara.