What to Cut Out of Your Budget During a Pandemic
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic crisis. Here's how you can save money during this uncertain time.
Managing Your Budget in the Age of COVID-19
Whether you’re one of the millions of people who have lost jobs in the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic or you’re at home worried that you might be next, reevaluating your finances is essential.
“Everyone should be thinking about their budget during a pandemic,” says Leslie H. Tayne, a financial attorney and author of Life and Debt: A Financial Approach Toward Achieving Financial Wellness. “Regardless of your employment status, your expenses have likely changed in some way during this time.” Depending on your situation, that could mean figuring out how to support a family on unemployment or shaving back discretionary spending to create more of a financial cushion during this time of crisis.
“People who have already lost income are scrambling to get through this crisis, while people who haven’t yet lost income are justifiably worried that they might in the future, says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “Which means it’s a good time to cut back on any unnecessary expenses and go into recession-prepping mode.” Here’s what the financial experts suggest you cut out of your budget during a pandemic.
Your favourite Chinese restaurant is probably closed to the public because of social distancing, but many restaurants are still offering pickup and delivery. Ordering takeout can add up quickly, however. While supporting local businesses (and the people behind them) is essential when you can, cooking at home is much more cost-effective than eating out, pandemic or not.
Tayne recommends you plan a menu for at least a week and buy what you can from the grocery store. Because going to the grocery store can raise health risks for you and store employees, do your best to minimize contact by planning out what you need in advance, reducing the number of trips you make to the store, and ordering and asking for curbside pickup when available. Here’s how to avoid germs when grocery shopping.
Cancelling a gym or studio membership while the facility is closed is another smart choice to save money during the pandemic. Palmer notes that gyms have different policies: some allow refunds or freezing memberships, while others don’t. “[M]any are changing their offerings to online classes so they are still providing services to clients,” Palmer adds.
Other gyms have automatically frozen memberships for locations that have been closed by mandates, Tayne says. Contact your gym to make sure you’re not being charged if it’s closed.
Now is also a great time to try out some free YouTube or Instagram workouts at home. “You may find that you don’t miss the gym,” Tayne says. “This is something you can reassess once gyms reopen and you have a better understanding of what your financial situation is going to be post-quarantine.”
Find out how you can still support your favourite small businesses during the lockdown.
With movie theatres, concert venues, and stadiums closed, you won’t be able to spend your discretionary income on going to see your favourite bands or the latest blockbuster anyway. Plus, you can find lots of live free performances by musicians and stream some movies for free. An added benefit to staying home? Lower gas costs and rideshare bills.
The pandemic is an opportune time to cut back on discretionary spending. In general, Palmer recommends people follow the 50/30/20 budget, in which 50 per cent of your take-home pay goes toward needs, 30 per cent toward wants, and 20 per cent toward debt payments and savings. “And it’s that 30 per cent where you can really cut back on spending,” Palmer says.
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Now probably isn’t the time to cancel your Netflix subscription, but you may be surprised to realize how many subscriptions you’re paying for and not really using. A number of apps, such as Truebill and Mint, can help you identify all of the subscriptions you’re paying for. “Look through them with a critical eye to determine what you can live without right now,” Tayne says. “The savings will add up quickly.”
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Transportation is another expense that has probably already been reduced because many of us are working and learning from home. In order to protect yourself from contracting the coronavirus and for your financial health, you should only be out driving or using public transportation when absolutely necessary. Additionally, gas prices are plummeting in many places, and your savings will add up quickly. You’ll pay even less at the pumps with these tips on how to get better gas mileage.
Though you’re not going able to hit the sale rack at your favourite retail store in person, online shopping can be a tempting way to pass time at home, especially when you see advertisements for 30, 40, or even 50 per cent off from your favourite brands. (Just make sure you follow these tips for safe online shopping.) However, if you’re looking to trim expenses from your budget, avoid shopping for new clothes right now. Fortunately, the fact that most people are hunkered down at home and events have been cancelled can help you curb spending on expensive new outfits for you and your kids. “Most of us aren’t really going anywhere, new clothes are low on the priority list right now anyway,” Tayne says.
While you should definitely consider the people who might be losing their income when you think about tweaks to your budget during the pandemic, reducing services such as lawn care will also help you save more money. Many regions have deemed certain landscaping functions non-essential anyway, so check in with your municipality. Bonus: The extra time you have from not commuting you can cut the grass yourself. Just make sure you avoid doing these things to your lawn.
We don’t have to tell you that cleanliness is essential to fighting the coronavirus and you’re probably already in overdrive cleaning and disinfecting your home. And you’re spending a lot more quality time inside. So if you have a professional cleaning service or housekeeper and are looking for another area to cut your budget during the pandemic, cleaning your home with yourself and with your family is a good option. To get started, find out which household products actually kill coronavirus.
A global pandemic isn’t the time to get overly concerned about split ends or visible roots. Haircuts and other personal grooming services are another expense that you can cut as salons and barbershops are likely shut down anyway. Although you might be tempted to tackle a light touch-up at home, read this before trying to cut your own hair. Worried about messing up your hair with at-home colour? Take a cue from this woman who’s embracing grey hair during quarantine.
If you need funds…
While selling your stock might seem like a good option for a quick infusion of cash, experts warn against it. “Don’t sell now,” says Steve Kruman, a financial planner and investment advisor at Bryce Wealth Management. “People who are being induced into panic are selling, and somebody else is buying those shares for when prices recover. The stock market always has fluctuations. It comes down to risk tolerance. You have to be prepared for volatility and be diversified.”
On a final note, however, the crisis we’re in is unprecedented, and many of the traditional personal finance rules no longer apply. “For example, it’s OK to use up more of your credit limit than usual on your credit cards if that’s what it takes to buy food for your family,” Palmer says. “You can focus on rebuilding your credit later after the crisis passes.”
Next, check out pro tips on how to save for retirement during the coronavirus crash.