Now Or Never·PERSONAL ESSAY

I'm a finance journalist but it took COVID-19 to make me prioritize saving

Toronto-based finance journalist Zandile Chiwanza says covering the economic destruction of COVID-19 made her get serious about creating an emergency fund.

The pandemic motivated finance writer Zandile Chiwanza to finally create an emergency fund

Finance journalist Zandile Chiwanza only had $1.11 in her savings account at the start of 2020. (Tatiyanna Williams-Briton)

Contributed by Zandile Chiwanza

It's an admission that some people might find shocking: 

COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise for my personal finances. 

Despite the fact that I am a finance journalist, at the start of 2020 my savings account contained less than $2.00. A year later, I have managed to put aside more than $3,000 in an emergency fund. 

But before I go on to dish more on building my emergency fund, it's important to acknowledge that being able to cover bills and save money is a privilege in this economy. I don't take it for granted, especially when so many people are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. 

Uncovering my financial blindspot

Whether it's an area of your finances you're completely oblivious to — or one you simply choose to ignore — no one is immune to financial blind spots.

For instance, even though I know better (as a self-proclaimed budget warrior), I chose not to prioritize saving money in an emergency fund. Over time that decision to delay my savings fund developed into a habit, then eventually it became a financial blindspot for me.

By not prioritizing saving money, I was never prepared for any minor inconveniences or emergencies. As a result, I incurred more high-interest debt and suffered the stress and anxiety that can come with it.

'By learning to understand my own emotional connections to money, I no longer needed the instant gratification of impulse buying,' says Zandile Chiwanza. (Tatiyanna Williams-Briton)
 

Managing my mental and financial health

Looking back, I realize the pandemic was the catalyst that led me to investigate what stopped me from creating an emergency fund. 

I'll never forget the sense of panic I felt reading headlines about people losing their livelihood overnight. I was scared that I would be next and knew that, as a finance journalist, I should have known better. 

But while the fear created from the fall-out of the pandemic motivated me to commit to saving, I also had to change my attitude. In the past I viewed building savings as boring, preferring to pay off debt or to simply spend money.  

By reframing my thoughts around spending, I began to look at it as a form of self-care. I now consider savings a gift to my future self. 

My strategy for building savings included covering the minimum payment on debt because I didn't want to damage my credit score. I also doubled the amount I had originally planned to put into my savings. 

Near the end of 2020, I had to dip into my savings account to pay for a medical emergency. This brought about unhelpful feelings of guilt. My reframing tools helped me to realize that using an emergency fund isn't a set-back, it is using savings as they are intended. 

By reframing my thoughts around spending, I began to look at it as a form of self-care. I now consider savings a gift to my future self.- Zandile Chiwanza

By learning to understand my own emotional connections to money, I no longer needed the instant gratification of impulse buying. Spending and saving with intention feels far more rewarding. 

Daily affirmations for financial goals

In 2021 I'm all about doing whatever it takes to commit to a healthy relationship with my finances. For some extra motivation, I decided to turn my financial goals into affirmations. 

Research shows the repetition of positive self-affirming messages can actually change the nerve pathways in your brain, leading to the development of new neural patterns associated with positive thinking. 

Now that I've made good on my promises and built up my cash reserves, my main goal is to finally pay off my high-interest debt. This year I hope to realize my next goal, which is to make investing the next phase of my journey to financial freedom. 

'In 2021 I'm all about doing whatever it takes to commit to a healthy relationship with my finances.' (Tatiyanna Williams-Briton)

Zandile Chiwanza is a personal finance journalist and financial wellness expert based in Toronto. 

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