How the Pandemic Made Me Rethink My Finances — And Prompted Me to Invest For the First Time

In my old life — i.e. pre-COVID-19 — I worked both as a beauty writer and in various financial writing capacities, from corporate communications at a bond-rating agency to marketing at a Big 4 accounting firm to writing collateral for financial advisers at a mutual fund. So despite knowing the importance of investing, I kind of got by doing the bare minimum of it myself for many years.

That is, until the pandemic and its economic fallout made me rethink my whole approach to investing in my financial future. Writing articles about 401(ks) for a living made me more retirement-focused, but I've come to realize that for most people, the only way to attain financial security is to save and invest over a long period of time.

After surviving multiple rounds of layoffs at multiple jobs at the crux of the 2008 market crash, I made the decision never to have a single income stream again. While I was lucky to have dodged being laid off, I made up my mind that my income would have a direct relationship with how many clients I balanced as a team of one. It came down to how much work I was doing and how much business development and networking I put into the equation myself.

The pandemic and its economic fallout made me rethink my whole approach to investing in my financial future.

The beginning of 2020 was a sort of comeback tour for me, financially. After pivoting my business to focus on copy consulting for lifestyle clients and contributing to a few favorite editorial outlets, I was generating great connections and client leads. I even started coaching other prospective freelancers on how to start their businesses and price their projects.

Helping others ensure they'll never be reliant on a single income source is something I'm passionate about — especially after seeing so many colleagues get axed later in their careers. I also learned how important it is to build up an emergency fund to fall back on.

And then March happened. I went from six regular clients on retainer to two. I was furloughed from a few clients while one went out of business. A couple of my editorial outlets no longer had a freelance budget and some, understandably, had to slash their rates. And while I was lucky to have maintained two of my larger clients, I realized that even diversifying my income isn't enough when unemployment numbers are rising and there are even more newly minted freelancers. This really made it clear to me how important investing is to growing my wealth for the long term.

So I started to think about how I could start investing outside of my 401(k) and IRA accounts, so I could take small steps to build financial security over the long run. I decided it was time to invest my money in the markets because, as diverse as my clients and even types of clients are, my income wasn't as diverse. Investing in the markets makes me feel like my money is working hard for me, even if I'm not sitting at my computer typing away. It also feels good to expand my investment portfolio at a time when I have less control over my day-to-day income, but have a broader plan for potential future wealth building.

Two friends of mine had been talking about the Robinhood app as an easy investing resource, and I was intrigued. I loved that it gave me a free stock to start with and then I chose a few of my own in which to invest — including healthcare companies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What I've found the most empowering . . . is my ability to put my money where my mouth is.

It's been cool to have a stake in so many companies from a perspective other than them being my clients. Plus, since I've been living at my parents' house in the suburbs of Philadelphia during the COVID crisis, for the first time, I even found myself enjoying watching business channels (regularly scheduled programming at my parents' house), which, before, I'd always tuned out.

What I've found the most empowering about the investments I've made, though, is my ability to put my money where my mouth is — meaning, investing in companies whose values are in alignment with my own. I want to invest in companies that have diverse company boards, are committed to sustainability and giving back, and are creating products or services I love and believe in. It's great to be able to act on my research with just a few taps, anywhere from my phone.

Now, one of my favorite mini writing breaks to take throughout the day is to check how my portfolio is doing. I can safely say that taking the leap into investing, even though brought on by a difficult situation, has made me feel more confident than ever before about my financial future. I work hard for my money, so it feels good to know that I can make my money work for me, too.

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