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A prescription for positivity

Jul 7, 2020
Empower Insights

How one nurse is staying upbeat while her work is slowing down

When Rachel Farias and her husband said “I do” nearly 10 years ago, the couple took a vow of a different kind.

Of course, they recited many traditional pacts, pledges and promises that day.

But they also made a commitment they hoped would have a long-lasting impact on their financial future.

“Since Day 1 of being married, we decided that we would both put $500 away from our paychecks each month,” says Farias, a registered nurse who resides in Indiana. ”Whether we’ve wanted to or not, we’ve always stuck to saving. And once we set aside that money, we no longer consider it ours anymore.

“That’s our philosophy.”

In light of the ongoing pandemic, that philosophy is now being tested in many unexpected ways.

Like many professionals in the healthcare industry, Farias’s workload has actually decreased since March despite the increase in total coronavirus cases.1,2 That’s because most hospitals across the U.S. have been forced to cancel, delay or postpone elective procedures to help create more room for COVID-19 patients.3

As a result, that’s meant no room for Farias as an on-call nurse at her hometown medical center in LaPorte, IN. On top of her full-time job, it’s a reliable role that can net her anywhere from $700 to $900 per month — additional funds she typically earmarks for family gatherings as well as student loan and car payments.

“Without that extra income, we’re right on budget,” says Farias, adding that her husband recently opened his own home improvement company but overall business has been hindered by today’s unusual events. “We’re able to pay our bills and nothing else — and we’re very strict with how we spend.”

Earning enough cash to cover common costs and fixed expenses isn’t the only worry for Farias, though.

All in all, my kids and parents are taken care of - and that's what's important. I'm keeping a positive outlook for the future

While she may be on leave from her on-call position, Farias is still serving as a full-time contract nurse at a local hospital in nearby Elkhart (60 miles from her house). Before the outbreak picked up in her home state, there was ample opportunity to schedule more shifts and submit overtime hours as needed.

“There was never an empty bed,” says Farias. “We were always at max capacity, with plenty of people to treat.”

During the sudden slowdown, Farias is fulfilling just her normal three 12-hour shifts per week. And from the moment she arrives on campus, she immediately has to follow a set of mandatory guidelines to stay safe. Some of the robust protocols include getting her temperature taken, answering a health questionnaire and wearing all the required protective equipment.   

“I’m clothed head to toe,” says Farias, who floats between the COVID-19 unit and the main floor.

Meanwhile, her 18-year-old daughter moved into her own place and her 16-year-old son moved in with his grandparents as a precautionary measure while Farias continued to work on the front lines of the pandemic. As someone who could be a potential carrier, Farias has already endured an eight-week stretch without seeing her son in person.

“I don’t want to get him sick,” Farias says. “It’s a stressful situation for us.”

But that stress hasn’t stopped Farias from supporting her family.

For starters, Farias continues to remain proactive with managing her family’s financial strategy. She has freed up an additional $700 per month by pausing her student loan payments4 and has joined the 51% of individuals who are cutting back spending on nonessential items.5 Her efforts also include limiting online purchases, avoiding takeout food for dinner and “buying only what we need at the grocery store.”

Plus, as her husband is looking to land a few new repair projects, Farias believes it’s only a matter of time before she’s busy again, too (“in a non-COVID way,” she adds). In fact, she’s currently cross-training in other critical-care areas to help sharpen her skills if any internal opportunities become available.

“I really think things will start progressing in the right direction soon,” says Farias, who is also still contributing to her 401(k) plan that is offered through her contract agency. “All in all, my kids and parents are taken care of — and that’s what’s most important. I’m keeping a positive outlook for the future.”

And, although Farias admits she and her husband are unable to allocate $1,000 per pay period to their personal account right now, having that cushion they began padding on “Day 1” remains a comfortable security blanket.

“We’ve worked hard together to build that foundation,” Farias says. “It’s always there if we need it.”

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1 Tampa Bay Times, “Thousands of health care workers are laid off or furloughed as coronavirus spreads,” May 2020.

2 Indianapolis Star, “Coronavirus Indiana updates: State Police report COVID-19 case; IU makes big changes,” March 2020.

3 CNN, “Trump administration gives hospitals guidelines for resuming elective procedures,” April 2020.

4 The Washington Post, “What you need to know about debt relief on student loans,” May 2020.

5 The Empower Institute, “From Confidence to Concern: America’s Financial Outlook in the Face of a Pandemic,” March 2020.

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