When the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit, I was 12 years old. It doesn’t register when I mentally play back the grainy footage that is my life thus far, which makes me think that my family (thankfully) was relatively unaffected. Now I’m 26 and I work, pay taxes, pay rent. So do most of my girlfriends.

Given the current climate, my group chat with aforementioned girlfriends has shifted from book recommendations, Net-A-Porter wish list curation and relationship woes to all things COVID-19. It started slowly, and then all at once. We stopped going out, we were hyper-aware of our health, our families health and the volatile state of the economy became a very real factor in many of our lives. And given it’s estimated that upwards of two million Australians could loose their jobs –  just over half of them being women – it’s fair to say that female financial health is, or should be, absolutely on the agenda (a very packed agenda, but on it nonetheless).

I was fortunate enough to meet Meggie Palmer during an interview last year. She’s a finance expert and founder of PepTalkHer, an app with the mission to close the gender pay gap (that is women earn on average $249 less per week than men). Her advice is honest, practical, digestible and real. Also, her mission is paramount and her generosity is second to none – case in point, this interview. I asked Meggie to share some advice when it comes to female financial health in trying times. Information you can save for yourself or share with a girlfriend in need. I will quickly note that we’re currently in an economic state of flux, where changes are happening almost hourly, so do your research and stay informed. Meggie actually recommends some incredible further resources below, not to mention a constant stream of information on the PepTalkHer app, Instagram and website. Below, Meggie touches on job loss, saving, debt and leading during what is, to be blunt, a really stressful time for so many of us.

Finance expert and founder of PepTalkHer Meggie Palmer

GRAZIA: What would your best advice be for a single woman navigating unexpected loss of income right now?

Meggie: Losing a job is stressful. Let yourself be upset, cry, create a voodoo doll of your former boss if it’ll make you feel better! And then… onwards. Reframing a job loss as an opportunity rather than a disaster is key to opening your eyes to new – and no doubt even better – pathways. Mindset is critical. Surround yourself with positive people (digitally, obviously) and start a gratitude practice if you don’t already have one.

If you’re offered a severance payout or get a sense it could be on the cards, it pays to ask the right questions. In the USA, it’s a great idea to see if your employer will agree to continue paying your health benefits for a while longer to give you a window of time to find a new job. In some countries like Australia it’s worth talking to an accountant and asking if your employer will pay it as a bonafide redundancy. A ‘genuine’ redundancy payment is taxed at a much lower rate meaning a LOT more money in your pocket!

Do the calculations on how long it’ll realistically take you to find a new job. Once you’ve worked out how many months of living expenses you’ll need, quarantine that cash during your job hunt. Make sure you put it in a high interest savings account so you’re earning a return in the meantime (just make sure there are no penalties if you have to access it).

Got a massive payout and still got money left after the job hunt budgeting? LUCKY YOU! My advice is to put the rest of your cash into investments. If you have any credit card debt, clear it immediately (those interest rates are CRIPPLING). With the rest, you may choose to pay down your mortgage (if you have one), bank it in a high interest account, or invest.

If you don’t know where to start, fear not. I was the same when I started out dabbling in shares. I’ve made a heap of mistakes and if I had my time again, I’d invest all my cash into a broad range of shares. The easiest way to do that, in my opinion, is ETFs. Essentially you’re buying a basket of shares so you’re spreading your risk. You can buy them yourself super simply using platforms like Ellevest or Stash or you can join the Financial Gym. I like following gurus on Instagram for this stuff too. @MyFabFinance @TheGirlWhoSavesMoney and @Theshed_Money are excellent. We talk about financial freedom on @PepTalkHer as well.

Note: Right now, the share market is in an extremely volatile position, so we recommend seeking further professional financial advice before you make a decision.

GRAZIA: Do you have any tips for jobseekers in a recession, or during a time when their respective industry is struggling?

Meggie: Focus on being your best self. That’s great advice during both economic booms and downturns. Everyone wants to hire and work with epic people, so be one of those highly sought after individuals. Invest in yourself, build your presence on LinkedIn and social media – you want to be top of mind for everyone. And be generous – give back to others. You never know when they’ll be able to repay the favour. We are running free daily Power PepTalks to help. LinkedIn ran a session with us on ‘Writing Your Skills Narrative’, Columbia University’s Negotiation Guru ran a master class for us. We worked with speaking coach Nick Harding on Finding Your Inner Ted Talk as well. Tune in to them here.

GRAZIA: For those of us who continue working, we might find our job roles shift to suit business needs. What advice do you have for women finding themselves in a position where they are working well beyond their salary packet, but a discussion around pay increase is obviously off the table?

Meggie: Companies are asking people to take pay cuts right now in order to stay in business. Cash flow is king and a lot of companies are hurting. No one likes going backwards, but right now holding onto a job is a great option. It can be useful to build into the temporary pay cut a review. “I completely understand it’s a challenging time financially and I want to support the business through this. Could we revisit the business’s position and my salary in say six months from now?”

GRAZIA: It’s commonly thought that women are hit harder during times of economic hardship. What are some ways women in the work force can practically protect themselves right now, as well as in the future.

Meggie: I think always having a Plan B is a great strategy: a network of people who know what you do and like you should you ever be looking for a job. And a pot of savings for a rainy day.

But how can you build that up? I’m a nerd and like to pretend I never get a tax return and instead put it straight into my investment account. Yes, I’d like a new Chloe handbag, but I take a short-term pain, long-term gain approach. Investing little by little now pays big dividends later thanks to the power of compounding interest and asset growth.

Also the best hack for me has been to automate my finances. I put a certain amount of money away every week (no matter how small!) and I was able to set the habit early in my career. You’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll add up – the best time to start saving was yesterday, the second best time is today.

GRAZIA: As a female leader, what is your advice for exercising compassion towards a team right now in the current climate?

Meggie: Most businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. My attitude with my team at PepTalkHer has been full transparency. We’re lucky that we all work remotely anyway so were able to pivot to focus more on our digital workshops and programming. In fact we’ve even signed on some new Fortune 500 clients amidst it all.

But we’ve also had challenges and had to make some hard decisions. I couldn’t have solved them on my own. I am also glad I included my team in conversations early on. My wonderful colleague had a great idea that got us out of a tight spot – it was literally a lifesaver. I think it’s important to keep the team informed and involved. More often than not they’ll be immensely helpful in getting through it.

Find more information and links to download Meggie’s app, PepTalkHer, here.