It’s getting colder and darker. So lighten up (financially)!

Good thing you’re not spending money on commuting, all that expenditure on gasoline. Or maybe minty Little Trees to hang on the mirror on your Tesla next to your unlaundered face mask. Those add up too. You’re probably spending less on expensive, bitter coffee and watery lattes. Generally dining out less. And who’s taken a real vacation in the last seven months?

Never mind first class cruises or climbing Machu Picchu. Now people are wondering if they’ll be doing Thanksgiving by Zoom. “Can you see how nice the sweet potato and marshmallow casserole came out?”

Soon the days will get really short and cold. People I talk to aren’t thrilled with the prospect of pandemic-related holing up under those conditions. Those 4-mile 7 p.m. walks don’t seem like such a pleasant prospect in darkness and 40 degrees. In my suburban area, we’ve got coyotes that snoop around at night. One of them bit a few people in one neighborhood.

Somehow, the lowering skies heighten the financial worries people have. The scholarship on seasonal affective disorder focuses mainly on light therapy, on the theory that less daylight causes the blues. But some researchers have cited a combination of factors, including money.

Public sector employment has largely escaped the mass layoffs that have occurred in some sectors of the economy. Some agencies, like the Small Business Administration, had to add people to handle the pandemic spending programs.

Still, you might need your own unspent shekels next year. Health care premiums on federal plans will rise almost 5%. OPM warns that some plans could rise 10% in terms of the employee portion of the premium. That “windfall” forgiveness in the Social Security payroll tax which, as far as I can tell, only federal employees had to pay — you’ll have to pay that back, taking another bite from your paycheck. Moreover, a federal pay raise doesn’t seem to be in the offing at the moment. It’s easier to get a raise if you’re CEO of a bankrupt company like Hertz Rent-a-Car than if you’ve spent seven months Zooming from the spare bedroom or hustling on the borders.

I checked around, asking what federal employees are, or might think about, doing if they’re feeling a slight positivity in family cash flow as a result of generally staying home.

Finance experts say the reduced expenditures of many individuals and families offer a good opportunity to shore up some sagging financial details. I can vouch for that personally. We’re paying off a line of credit on the house that’s been bugging us. The interest on it is ridiculously low, and it would be easy to pay off when we sell the house some day.

But I don’t like lingering debt, even debt that’s almost free. In fact, I put a little sign up in the kitchen so we can track the shrinkage of the line of credit.

You’ll find no dearth of gurus — online, in TV, on radio — to help you deal with debt. But the Federal Trade Commission also has a site with some useful other ideas. It focuses mainly on when people are in trouble, but the advice can work even if you just want to snip some financial loose ends.

Those of us lucky enough not to be among the millions of people thrown out of work, temporarily or permanently, may find we’ve also got a little extra to help those who aren’t so lucky. Charities and religious organizations are undergoing their own stresses now. Therefore while health benefits open season brings options to spend more than you’d like, the same time of year brings the Combined Federal Campaign. What a great year to crush last year’s total!

A third option for even small amounts of cash is to expand your investment base. If you like your strategy, keep your strategy. Just throw a little more at it. One investment advisor told me that, while you don’t want to suddenly start day trading or market timing, you might want to consider small investments in high-payoff potential securities. All the usual dependencies apply, though, like your personal (or family) risk appetite and age.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

In the United States, coffee can only be commercially grown in two states: Hawaii and California. However, Puerto Rico, which is a territory of the U.S., has a thriving coffee industry. About 90% of the coffee consumed in the country is imported, especially from South America.

Source: World Atlas

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THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN TICKER

Oct 27, 2020 Close Change YTD*
L Income 21.5789 -0.0183 1.59%
L 2025 10.4287 -0.0209 -
L 2030 35.6882 -0.0887 1.76%
L 2035 10.5629 -0.0289 -
L 2040 39.3902 -0.118 1.73%
L 2045 10.6557 -0.0343 -
L 2050 23.0513 -0.0795 1.64%
L 2055 10.8389 -0.047 -
L 2060 10.8390 -0.0469 -
L 2065 10.8391 -0.0469 -
G Fund 16.4838 0.0003 0.76%
F Fund 21.0380 0.0291 6.75%
C Fund 50.3120 -0.1519 5.50%
S Fund 60.8345 -0.3256 3.45%
I Fund 30.4015 -0.1783 -6.83%
Closing price updated at approx 6pm ET each business day. More at tsp.gov
* YTD data is updated on the last day of the month.