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American families are in survival mode. Here's how it's changing their money mindset

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Families across America are facing repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic.

From unemployment to career shifts to a loss or reduction in income, they are dealing with a new dynamic that may affect their relationships and their financial well-being.

Millions of Americans have also moved in with family members because of the Covid-19 crisis. In July, 52% of young adults lived with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of Census data. That surpasses the peak hit during the Great Depression, Pew said.

"Families have been happily coming together and looking at it as a way of survival that we haven't seen for generations," said Winnie Sun, co-founder and managing director of Irvine, California-based Sun Group Wealth Partners.

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Even before the pandemic struck, the family demographic was changing in the U.S. Couples are more apt now to delay or skip marriage but still live together. Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, thanks to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Ethnicity plays a role, too. For example, intergenerational living has always been ingrained in Hispanic culture, said certified financial planner Louis Barajas, COO and partner at MGO Wealth Advisors, also based in Irvine. Most of his clients are Hispanic.

While in recent years, young adults have been breaking away from that trend and moving away, the pandemic has shifted it back.

"Families, believe it or not, have become closer," said Barajas, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

'Let's lift each other up'

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As people move in together, they can combine income and reduce expenses. There are more home-cooked meals and less eating out.

Parents can give their children a place to live. Young adults can help their parents navigate technology, especially since it's become such a big part of everyone's life during the pandemic.

For instance, many of Barajas' clients only know about their local banks, not larger financial institutions.

"Now I have them on Zoom," he said. "Instead of having them saving one-tenth of 1%, I show them where to find banks that are paying a higher rate of returns for their savings.

"Things they would have never contemplated," Barajas added. "It has removed fear."

Parents should also make sure their children are contributing to the household expenses.

"Don't get rid of the responsibility that existed when they were living on their own," said CFP Lauryn Williams, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council, four-time Olympian and founder of Dallas-based Worth Winning, which offers virtual financial services.

Families have been happily coming together and looking at it as a way of survival that we haven't seen for generations.
Winnie Sun
co-founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners

If they are still generating income, they should save an emergency fund, a down payment for a place to eventually live and money to furnish it.

It's also a good time to have those uncomfortable conversations about money.

"This is the best time to talk about it," said Sun, also a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

You can use news events or articles to broach topics you want to discuss. Talk about things like what the future looks like, parents' retirement plans and a child's path to homeownership.

"Have a game plan of what you want to accomplish," said Sun. "There should be a list of topics you want to discuss with your family."

One thing that will certainly impact the family dynamic is a request for a loan. While it may be tempting to help out a family member, tread carefully.

"If you are trying to get your finances together, you fire back with, 'How can I help you get your finances together?'" Williams said.

"Now more than ever, people are looking to encourage one another," she added. "Let's lift each other up."

Parents cutting back at work

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The pandemic has also seen more parents cutting back their work hours or quitting their jobs altogether, since their children are home from school.

"A lot of our clients want to try to make it work on one income," Sun said.

"The pandemic has shown them that they can live off less," she added. "They are traveling less, spending less."

Then there are those who have left the workplace involuntarily, thanks to business closures and layoffs. Nearly 13 million remain unemployed, which is about 7 million more than pre-pandemic levels.

Single parents, in particular, are finding themselves in a tough spot.

"They can't pay regular bills, they can't leave their kids," said Williams.

"It has been really tough on those with lower incomes, because if they don't have a family nearby to help them fill the gap, they are stuck with homeschooling and not being able to leave kids unattended."

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There have been several studies highlighting the uneven impact on women, such as a report from the National Women's Law Center that found four times more women than men dropped out of the workforce in September.

However, a Pew Research Center analysis found that in the first six months of the pandemic, the workplace engagement of mothers and fathers has been affected equally.

The share of mothers who were employed in September 2020 was 53.4%, down from 69% from September 2019. The share of fathers was 85.6%, down from 90.5% in the same time period. However, mothers with kids ages 3 and younger were less likely to be at work.

Black, Asian and Hispanic mothers saw a greater decrease in the shares who were at work during the downturn than White mothers, Pew found.

Focusing on the future

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People are also looking toward the future, hoping to ensure some financial stability for their family.

Financial advisors have seen an uptick in estate planning, thanks to the lack of certainty.

Latinos, for instance, have for cultural reasons traditionally tended to be hesitant to plan for death, Barajas said. The pandemic is changing that.

"Covid has allowed me to have those conversations with clients on Zoom, more than I have in the last five years combined," he said.

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To navigate the economic fallout from the pandemic, he suggests going back to the basics.

Go over your budget, start a savings account and look at your retirement savings strategy. Try to figure out your next job or profession and even engage a headhunter.

I don't want them to feel stuck," Barajas said of his clients.

"I want them to feel, 'What do you want to do next?'"

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