The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented disruption in the lives and finances of people worldwide. Whether you’ve been laid off or furloughed from your job, seen a decrease in your freelance income, or even suffered no ill effects from the pandemic — it never hurts to take a look at your money and see where you can cut costs.
You Need a Budget (If You Don’t Have One Already)
If you don’t have a household budget, now is definitely the time to put one together. It’s not technically impossible to cut costs without one, but having a budget will make your life easier all around.
Once you know exactly where you stand financially, you can figure out how best to prioritize your spending. There are plenty of free apps and tools to help out if you don’t want to use pen and paper.
Prioritize Your Bills
Your budget should include a detailed, thorough list of all your expenses. Now that you know exactly how much money you’re working with, you can start the task of prioritizing your bills. Here’s how many financial experts recommend you prioritize:
Obviously, you’re not going to get far without eating. Basic survival is priority number one. Hitting the farmer’s market for cheap produce is probably out during the pandemic, but there are a number of other ways you can cut grocery costs:
- Plan meals around on-sale proteins and produce, focusing on cheaper cuts of meat where possible.
- Make bulk meal planning and preparation a family activity, with focus on simple meals that you enjoy.
- Buy cheaper, store brand staples instead of name brand, and hit up the discount grocery if there’s one in your town.
- Buy frozen produce instead of fresh where possible — it’s less expensive and will last longer.
The next priority is keeping a roof over your head. While you may qualify for mortgage assistance from the government, it doesn’t hurt to contact your mortgage lender or landlord directly and try to work out a deal. For homeowners, your lender may be able to help with refinancing, loan modification, or a mortgage forbearance. Landlords may be able to offer temporarily reduced payments, extensions, or partial payments.
Even if you’re working from home, transportation is likely to be key when you have a family. While you may not necessarily be facing repossession, it doesn’t hurt to look at cutting your transportation costs. Using public transportation isn’t the option it used to be, but you can talk to your auto lender about loan modification or refinancing.
If you have multiple vehicles, it might be good to consider selling one. For the vehicle you do decide to keep, now is probably a great time to compare auto insurance rates to see if there’s a better deal out there.
Your next step is to make sure the lights stay on.
If you’re facing shutdown of your utilities due to lost income, now’s the time to contact your utility companies and see what can be done. If you’re in a slightly better position and can afford to “spend money to make money,” there are some other steps you can take:
- A programmable thermostat can save you hundreds per year in reduced heating and cooling costs.
- Consider downgrading your internet service to a slower speed, assuming your family won’t revolt at the very thought.
- Make a project of sealing up cracks and leaks in your home’s windows and doors.
- Water your lawn less. A typical lawn needs only one inch of water per week. You could save hundreds on your water bills. Better yet, cut food costs too by turning some of that lawn into a vegetable garden.
- Clean your dryer trap! Dryer lint can greatly reduce dryer efficiency — and it can be a fire hazard, to boot.
- Switch to paperless bill payments to avoid the cost of stamps and post office trips.
Credit Cards and Personal Loans
When it comes to credit cards and personal loans, the most immediate way to cut costs is to contact your lender and ask for a reduced interest rate or reduced payments.
If you’re in a position where you have some money leftover in your budget, now is a great time to start paying off the highest-interest loan you have.
Once you have that paid off, you can start using that money to pay off the debt with the next-highest interest rate, and so on. Is this technically a cost-cutting measure? Not in the most immediate sense — but paying off a debt in its entirety does cut that cost out of your life permanently — and it can be a great ego boost, too.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already curtailed some of your luxuries — eating out, going to the theater, etc. The pandemic has made certain choices easier in that regard.
Other small luxuries, like streaming services, may be too vital to trim when everyone is stuck at home. But take a hard, merciless look at your budget and do what needs to be done.
Cutting costs can be difficult, especially during a stressful time like a pandemic. But the money you save, especially if you can set it aside for emergencies, can earn you far more peace of mind in the long run.