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As the GOP's 'skinny' coronavirus relief bill fails in Senate, a CFP weighs in on 'creating your own stimulus'

With the Senate failing to advance the narrower coronavirus relief package Thursday, one certified financial planner has advice for the millions of Americans anticipating some sort of aid: Make a 'financial report card.'

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The Republicans' "slimmed-down" coronavirus relief package failed to pass the Senate on Thursday.

More narrow in scope, the new bill planned to cut the weekly federal unemployment insurance from $600 (provided under the CARES Act) to $300 through December 27, and left out any second round of stimulus checks.

As negotiations remain in a standstill, millions of Americans wait to find out what financial aid they may receive. But regardless of the kind of stimulus eventually passed, you should prepare your finances now for all possible outcomes.

"I think regardless of whether we get a Senate relief bill passed, one's next steps remain the same," says Roger Ma, a certified financial planner at lifelaidout® and author of "Work Your Money, Not Your Life. "If you haven't already, come up with your financial report card, which involves getting a handle on your net worth, living expenses and credit score."

Below, Ma offers threes steps you can make to take control of your financial future.

1. Categorize your expenses

The first step in prepping what Ma calls your "financial report card" entails taking a look at how you spend your money. Start by pulling your latest credit card statement. Look for areas to save, such as recurring monthly subscription costs or streaming services.

As you search for ways to trim your budget, Ma suggests categorizing your expenses into "need-to-haves" versus "nice-to-haves." This will help you prioritize where your money goes each month. Start with cutting out expenses from the nice-to-have category, even if it's just temporarily until you feel more secure.

"Through that exercise, you're putting the control back into your own hands and creating your own 'stimulus' rather than being at the whim of lawmakers," Ma says.

You can also cut expenses by being more aware of how you manage your cash. For example, refrain from using out-of-network ATMs that charge you fees and move your money into a no-fee checking or savings account if you don't already use one.

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With interest rates expected to stay near zero for years, also consider refinancing your mortgage or student loans to pay less in interest each month. 

2. Increase the money coming in

In addition to looking at your cash outflow, find ways to increase your cash inflow.

There are plenty of side hustles you can take on even amid the ongoing pandemic. Look for part-time opportunities at grocery stores, retailers and through food delivery apps. Take on freelance work related to your field, such a copy writing, tutoring or graphic design.

You can also make extra money by selling things you have laying around your home that you no longer need through Facebook Marketplace. If you have any extra free time, log onto your computer and earn some extra cash by taking consumer surveys online through sites like Survey JunkieSwagbucks and Vindale Research.

Learn more: 5 easy ways to earn extra money from your couch

For those who are worried about their outstanding debt, increasing your income can help you afford to pay it off more quickly. Paying off a chunk of your revolving credit card balance can give you peace of mind and help boost your credit score by lowering your credit utilization. With a higher credit score, you have better approval odds for any new financial products, including loans and credit cards.

As part of your "financial report card," keep track of your credit score during this time by signing up for a credit monitoring service like CreditWise® from Capital One. The free service is open to anyone — regardless of whether you're a Capital One cardholder — and it has a credit score simulator where you can check the potential impact that certain actions, such as paying off debt or closing a credit card, can have on your credit score.

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3. Invest in yourself

According to Ma's "financial report card," you also should think about increasing your net worth, or value.

"While investments in your human capital or your ability to work may not pay immediate dividends, these activities could significantly improve your earnings potential," Ma says.

Consider building new skills by taking an online class and continue to network virtually with others. Making an investment in yourself today could help solidify your financial stability in the long term.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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