The pandemic seems to be winding down. We are still living with sensible precautions like wearing masks and keeping our physical distance, but the economy and our lifestyles are improving.
Economists seem unusually cheery about prospects for an economic boom. The optimism is fueled by mounting signs of success against the pandemic, the $1.9 trillion fiscal relief package and plenty of savings to spend.. Bloomberg Economics estimates Americans have accumulated excess savings to the amount of some $1.7 trillion since the beginning of the pandemic.
Of course, this is a forecast, always uncertain. The virus is still exacting its deadly toll. There has been so much personal loss and so much economic ruin among workers who lost their livelihood and small-business owners who shut down. Still, the U.S. seems to be heading toward better days.
The transition marks an opportune moment to reflect on personal-finance lessons learned over the past year. Three lessons stand out to me, lessons that have long been themes of this column. (You might have a very different list and, if you want, send me your list; I'd love to know.)
First, the personal-finance fundamentals of making savings automatic, embracing frugal spending habits, and judiciously using debt are simple and time-honored. But it seems we need to relearn over and over that managing household finances with a healthy margin of safety protects us against traumas while allowing for taking advantage of opportunities when they come along.
Second, connections are critical to personal finance. The people in your network, including family, extended family, friends, colleagues and others you have stayed in touch over the years are vital when making financial decisions. They are your springboard for checking out the wisdom of any money move, and they will keep you accountable to your money goals. Your network is invaluable when it's time for a career transitions, and the pandemic has showed that our network is an emotional safety net.
Finally, generosity is good for the spirit on its own, but giving thoughtfully in money and time encourages both smart money management and living your values. When we give money and time, especially with so many people suffering during the pandemic, we ask ourselves the right questions about what to do with our money. The answers should inform not only our giving, but how we invest and spend.
Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor for "Marketplace" and a commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.