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How to balance financial guilt during a global pandemic

how to manage financial guilt

Who knew that a global pandemic would be what took our feeling of financial security and flip it upside down? For some of us, it’s a time of feeling grateful for a steady income, health and a safe place to practice physical distancing. For others, it’s a scary and uncertain time, with no end in sight. 

No matter the situation, every single individual has taken a financial hit throughout COVID-19. In one week alone, half a million Canadians filed for employment insurance.

Each generation is navigating a different time in their life. For Gen-Z, it’s meant a huge adjustment to their progress in education. For millennials and Gen-X, it’s likely their first time dealing with an economic downturn as an adult. For boomers, it’s probably having a significant impact on their current or future retirement plans. No matter who you are, it’s not easy to cope with the uncertainty. 

I’ve been feeling a lot. I’m not sure what to call these feelings, other than financial guilt – and it weighs heavily on my heart. 

In this particular circumstance, the feeling captures my indecision about balancing my responsibility to my immediate family with my desire to help others in need. It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, but the impact of COVID-19 and the current variables surrounding this global pandemic has made these feelings that much stronger. 

How to deal with financial uncertainty

financial uncertainty and guilt

Ultimately, the number one way to combat the unknown is to do as your flight attendant would say and put on your own oxygen mask first. After all, if you don’t protect yourself, you won’t be able to help others, either.

If you are fortunate enough to keep your job, it might look and feel a lot different than before. If you are suddenly at home without work, you might be feeling panicked. 

“For people dealing with an increase in stress, choices are likely driven by emotion,” says financial expert, David O’Leary. “Sometimes, it’s good to look for a calm and collected opinion.”

To help, his company, Kind Wealth, is offering free financial consultations for those unsure of what options are available to them during COVID-19. Plenty of other Canadian financial advisors and not-for-profit organizations have also offered up their time to support those in need.

In the meantime, O’Leary provides perspective in the sense that although every financial situation is dramatically different, both require some thought. He poses the questions: how can you protect yourself in the coming months, and how will you be affected? 

To answer these questions, O’Leary says you’ll want to consider the following:

  • What options exist for earning income or revenue?
  • What funding is available, and of that funding, what is the most effective option?

If you are a small business owner or an individual whose income has been affected by the coronavirus, check out our list of financial resources available both federally and province to province. 

Now is the time to think through your best and worst-case scenarios and plan through those outcomes so that you aren’t left paralyzed and unsure of the next steps if either situation happens.

How can you manage guilt during COVID-19?

how to manage guilt

Everywhere you turn, there is a small business in need of support or a broader national foundation looking for help. In the most modest sense, donating money and ordering food, products or gift certificates from those businesses is a natural step. But, should you really be spending on non-essentials right now? 

If you are looking for a threshold to determine whether you’re making the right choices financially, it can be challenging. Remember that you cannot help anybody if you do not survive. 

“It’s prudent that you think about and prepare for the future before you start giving away money,” says O’Leary. 

Typically, financial guilt comes with spending money on things we don’t need or that we wouldn’t otherwise buy. The COVID-19 situation is different. The feelings are evoked more by a sense of not doing enough. If you aren’t able to help on the front lines, and if you aren’t dealing with struggles financially or health-wise, you start to feel guilty or even helpless. 

These feelings are similar to those experiencing ‘layoff survivor’s guilt’ – when you manage to survive a mass layoff, but friends or family do not. In a Global News article, content manager for Monster Canada, Arturo Gallo said that those who survive layoffs could feel a range of emotions – from mourning to sadness to anger. Gallo thinks you may also start to worry that you’re next.

In other words, it’s normal to feel this way.

If you’ve done your due diligence and want to take the next steps to navigate financial guilt during a global pandemic, there are a few key things you can do. 

  1. Find the root of your guilt and what causes you to feel this way
  2. Prioritize your financial security, and don’t feel selfish for doing so
  3. Learn about other perspectives and listen to those who are in a different situation
  4. Turn financial guilt into gratitude
  5. Let yourself feel guilty

No one has been through this type of global pandemic, and every one of us is finding different ways to get through the tough times. Feel what you need to feel, and don’t shame yourself for doing just that. 

How can you help – financially and otherwise

how to help during covid19

If you’ve got an emergency fund and have a stable income, now is a great time to support those in need financially. With so many businesses and individuals in need, the first thing you should do in this situation is deciding on which type of support is most important to you, personally. 

Choose a not for profit, a local business, a shelter or a food bank that you can support. If you’re unsure of what options are out there or how to find a company in need, check out the Community Foundations of Canada

If you are a business that can supply products and services in support of Canada’s response to COVID-19, the government has an online submission form.

If you are unable to help support those in need financially, the best thing you can do is to help by following health official recommendations. Stay home, wash your hands, and do your best to encourage others to do the same. Now is a great time to use your influence on social media to spread awareness or to keep people who cannot access news regularly informed. 

There is more than one way to support those in need, but remember, it’s okay to help yourself first. 

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.