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Here are smart money moves to make now as the economy bounces back

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Covid-19 vaccinations are on the rise. Mask mandates are being stripped away. Businesses are reopening.

What should you do to get on track with your money during the economic recovery?

The U.S. economy is showing signs of life as the country reopens and returns to a new normal following the coronavirus pandemic. Weekly jobless claims dipped to a new pandemic low of 406,000, and the economy added 266,00 jobs in April, a positive gain, though below expectations.

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"What we've seen is some really bright spots, some very encouraging news. It gives me hope, and I am bullish for the future," San Francisco Federal Reserve President Mary Daly told CNBC during a recent "Closing Bell" interview. She also said that the Fed hasn't seen enough progress yet to change policy.

Many households are still dealing with the impact of the pandemic and will be for many years, even as the economy recovers. And, even those who weren't hit as hard by Covid may need to reassess their finances, as lockdowns have shifted priorities and spending habits — as things return to normal, inflation has risen, which can be concerning for consumers not ready to spend more for goods and services.

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What's more, money experts say after being caught off guard by the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans may now be more mindful about being prepared for the next possible economic downturn.

Here's what experts recommend people focus on as the economy reopens and recovers.

1. Rebuild emergency savings

The pandemic was a complete surprise and showed many Americans just how unprepared they were to withstand an emergency. Now, as the U.S. rebuilds the economy and more people are going back to work, bolstering emergency savings should be top of mind.

"The best financial practices pertain through bad times and good," said Mark Hamrick,  senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "We'd strongly counsel to make emergency savings a priority."

A rule of thumb followed by many financial experts is that people should have three to six months of living expenses in an emergency savings fund. But 13 months into a pandemic that's left millions unemployed, people may be rethinking their savings goals.

If you took on $25,000 of debt, you can't manage your finances like you don't have $25,000 of debt to pay off.
Tania Brown
CFP and coach at SaverLife

"That should make people think a second time about using the rule of thumb, and actually think of their own specific situation," said Dana Menard, a certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Twin Cities Wealth Strategies in Maple Grove, Minnesota.  

Depending on their career, industry, family and specific needs, some people may want to save more — or even less — in an emergency savings fund to prepare for the next event.

"Three months is just the starting point," said Tania Brown, CFP and coach at SaverLife, a nonprofit focused on saving.

2. Pay down debt

Another high-priority financial goal that experts recommend is paying down debt, especially for those who might have taken on more to keep themselves afloat during the pandemic.

"If you took on $25,000 of debt, you can't manage your finances like you don't have $25,000 of debt to pay off," Brown said. That means that people should come up with a game plan for paying off debt with one of many strategies, such as paying off high-interest debt first or focusing on the debt that's easiest to get rid of quickest.

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Now is a good time to plan for debt management, according to Brown. In the last few months, with a third round of stimulus checks and tax refunds going out, families especially could have thousands of extra dollars to deploy.

Of course, some people may want to pay down their debt before they build up emergency savings or work towards both goals simultaneously.

If people can afford to work towards multiple financial goals at once, they should, said Menard, adding that not everyone has that ability.  

3. Rework your budget for the new normal

Last year was unusual, and for many that resulted in drastic changes to their set budget. Whether people lost work and had to find other sources of income or found that they had extra money from canceled trips, budgets may need updating.

This is also important as people begin to reenter the world as it opens post-pandemic. They should be extra careful not to let their excitement lead to overspending, Brown said.

Really factor in what that inflation is going to be – what you think that you had budgeted before might not be enough
Marisa Bradbury
Investment advisor at Sigma Investment Counselors

It's also a good idea to check to see if the cost of certain goods and services are the same or have changed due to the pandemic.

"Be mindful of inflation creeping in — things might cost more," said Marisa Bradbury, CFP, CPA and investment advisor at Sigma Investment Counselors in Lake Mary, Florida. "Really factor in what that inflation is going to be — what you think that you had budgeted before might not be enough."

If you do have money to allocate to fun things such as entertainment, shopping or travel, Bradbury recommends checking back in with your budget and setting aside a specific amount to guard against overspending. This is especially important for those in retirement living on a fixed income, Bradley said.

4. Recalibrate and revise your financial goals

As the U.S. moves on from the pandemic, people should also reassess their long-term financial goals. The past year set millions of Americans back in many ways, and for some that meant pushing off milestones such as buying a house or car.

"If they were hammered by 2020, they may have to push out retirement for a couple of years; that's OK," Brown said. "They may have to get some of those financial fundamentals taken care of first."

Even as the economy recovers, however, getting back to pre-pandemic finances won't happen overnight, according to Brown. And, people should be aware of that and adjust their expectations accordingly.

"What worked in 2019 or even 2020 may not work now," she said.

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