Cassie Kurtz is a force. As a Brooklyn-based barber (she’s the owner of Beyond the Beard NYC), she lives and works in one of the biggest hot spots of COVID-19, which means her business has been closed for weeks longer than most barbers in the U.S. And she’s still waiting to reopen.

She’s also the woman behind Her Chair His Hair, an organization dedicated to building more inclusion in the barbering industry. Suffice to say, she knows a thing or two about resilience, and it turns out financial resilience is one of her hidden talents.

After paying off a mountain of personal debt (cough, $67,000) in only a couple of years, launching Her Chair His Hair while running her own business, and having enough savings left over to buy a new car, yeah, you might say she’s financially savvy. So we recently asked Cassie to join us at one of our Town Halls to discuss financial resilience for service industry professionals.

One of her biggest points?

Despite the fact that you may be dealing with staying closed for longer than some industries because you’re considered a “non-essential business”, you should never lose sight of how vital your work is to your local economy as well as the national one. “Non-essential doesn’t mean unimportant,” Cassie told us. “Don’t forget the happiness, relief, and much-needed help we offer our clients.”

If you missed it, you can watch the full replay on YouTube. Meanwhile, here are the three biggest takeaways for anyone who needs to get their finances in order like…yesterday.

Get to Know the System

Cassie is not afraid of research. Talk to her for a few minutes, and it’s clear that she’s done more of it than almost anyone you’ve met. That’s because she believes that financial resilience requires having an intimate knowledge of what you’re up against and who can help you.

She recommends that you start by looking into all aspects of the financial system including calling your bank, your credit card holders, and even your insurance company. Many of these businesses are offering special pandemic-related financial assistance or deferred payment programs.

“Small independent businesses constitute more than 60% of the U.S. economy,” Cassie says. “Again, non-essential doesn’t mean unimportant.” That means that your financial institutions need you. They want you to continue doing business with them. The best thing you can do when it comes to financial assistance is ask what your options are.

“Non-essential doesn’t mean unimportant. Don’t forget the happiness, relief, and much-needed help we offer our clients.” – Cassie Kurtz

If you can defer some payments to reroute money into more pressing business matters, that’s a win. If you can suspend your insurance for a couple of months or get a break on your credit card’s interest rate, that’s money saved.

By the way, if you weren’t properly set up as a business at the start of the pandemic and found you couldn’t apply for unemployment, Cassie stresses that you should do that now. According to many health experts, it’s likely there will be a second wave of the pandemic come fall. Worst-case scenario, if you need to shutter your business again, you’ll be able to apply for unemployment assistance this time. That’s a huge help.

Don’t Avoid Your Finances — Own Them

“It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.”

Cassie loves this quote because it reminds her (and you!) that income is only part of the battle — a welcome point when you have very little money coming in. As you’re waiting for your income to stabilize, remember that you have control over how you’re spending what you do have.

Cassie’s best advice is to carefully calculate all your fixed monthly expenses as well as your current income. In writing. Then think about areas where you can or already have cut back.

You’re not going out to eat or to happy hours during quarantine. Same goes with commuting expenses or the lunch you’d usually buy when you were at the studio. That’s all money saved, and it can go toward paying off debt or building up an emergency fund.

Cassie also recommends encouraging your clients to pay for service packages upfront now (you can set those up through your Schedulicity account), so that you have the money ahead of time during this slower period. You don’t need to spend it — in fact, Cassie recommends you sock away as much of that money into your savings as possible. But just having that buffer for the next few months will help give you peace of mind and flexibility.

Recognize That You Can’t Change What You’ve Already Done

If you’re already in debt, stop beating yourself up about it. In her Town Hall, Cassie shared that she was $67,000 in debt just a few years ago. “And that wasn’t even student loans or a mortgage. It was pure credit card debt.” Through her research, she learned that she was far from alone. “59% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck,” she says. “We see it all the time in this industry.”

 Income is only part of the battle. As you’re waiting for your business to stabilize, remember that you have control over how you’re spending what you do have.

The key to getting ahead of it is to make a solid plan to move forward. Consider this post-pandemic world an opportunity for a fresh start, and let your debt be the motivation you need to do it differently from here on out. Make a plan for paying it down and stick to the reduced spending habits you naturally fell into during lockdown. You’ve seen that you can get by with less. Use that to your advantage to pay off your debt and build up your financial resilience.