12 Financial Tips to Consider During the Pandemic
Written by Robby Thomas
With approximately 14 Million Americans out of work and thousands of businesses not likely to reopen, the covid19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it. More importantly, the impact of the shut-down has left many families struggling financially. Although, the federal government has moved quickly to address the crisis, with passing the CARES ACT, it is only a temporary measure.
Families will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future. It also means that many Americans will be seeking ways to mitigate the challenges of having to stretch those dollars. Here are a few tips to consider.
Review Your Budget
One of the primary ways you can potentially save money when things are tight is to take a hard look at your overall financial situation. Translation: review and reevaluate your budget especially your expenses. A budget provides a road map of your priorities, meaning that it should give you a line by line indication where your financial priorities are. If you don’t have a budget, or haven’t used one before, now would be a good time to do so. Given that there may be limited resources coming in to the household, adjustments should be made to address the shortfall. Review and modify your budget with clarity and purpose. Make sure address which items are critical versus important and what may be important versus desirable.
Saving Money On Fees
After reviewing your budget and making the necessary adjustments you can then review all your financial products and services such as bank accounts, credit card accounts that may be incurring fees. Fees such as ATM fees, bank service fees, overdraft fees and credit card fees late fees can be significant. They should be minimized at all cost if not eliminated. In some cases, overdraft fees can be $35 per occurrence, and out-of-network ATM fees can be up to $5.00 per transaction. Some banks or managers may exercise discretion on fee reversals, due to the pandemic. Don’t hesitate to ask for leniency if you were hit with any such fees. It never hurts to ask. Every extra dollar matters when you’re on a tight budget. Easy rules to follow include skipping the back/forth at the ATM multiple times per week (especially if there may be fees involved). If possible, get enough money to last for the week—or until your next check—and make your money stretch. Psychologically, it is also more difficult to part with cold, hard cash than it is to whip out a plastic debit or credit card.
Being an educated consumer by comparing prices is one of the best savings strategies you can use, when things are tight. Because of the competitive nature of the consumer market, you do have the ability to compare pricing on virtually every good and service you use. By utilizing your right as a consumer to compare pricing you can literally save thousands of dollars annually. The difference between designer brand clothing and store-brand clothing, for example, is not just a label, it could be anywhere from 60-300%. With that in mind, you should shop through any of your loyalty or membership accounts that may save you an extra buck or two. For example, if a retailer offers a discount for AAA members, or a student discount, take full advantage of it.
With the advancements of digital technology, home entertainment packages now include a variety of services, which can include cable TV, phone, internet and even alarm systems. In an effort to decrease spending it may make sense to downgrade your service to a lesser expensive tier in order to save on your monthly subscription. Basically, you can look at your service options to see where you can save money. Consider removing a non-essential service like premium movie or sports channels, which tend to more expensive. You can also consider going back to the basics and just use an internet connection which then allows you to use access services like Hulu and Netflix for a far lower price tag. And if you really want to go old school, you can rent books and movies (DVDs) from your local library for free. And yes, I know this can cause anxiety, but it’s a viable strategy to save a few dollars when you’re in a the midst of a pandemic.
Eating In Means Cashing In
Food is a basic human necessity. Although we no longer hunt and gather to survive, American families have taken it for granted that breakfast, lunch and dinner are a given. That said, digital platforms such as Uber eats and Grub-hub, has made food delivery extremely convenient, especially during the pandemic. Although these services have played a critical role for many American families in recent months, that convenience comes with a cost. Consistently relying on these services for food delivery can add up. Purchasing and preparing your own food for breakfast, lunch (brown bag) and dinner is not only cost effective, it can be a much healthier option as well. Plus, there’s just something special about home cooking and having leftovers particularly when you’re trying to manage limited funds.
Look For Close Out Sales, Discounts, and Coupons
These have been difficult times for everyone including retailers. Many retailers are aggressively offering special discounts to entice buyers. Sometimes this may be a ‘going out of business’ sale or inventory liquidation sale. Look through your local newspaper or social media,(the weekend editions are best) to find and hunt for deals. In addition, coupons represent an amazing opportunity to save money. Some families have made using coupons a way of life. By devoting time to seek out and learn about coupons you can significantly reduce the amount of out of pocket funds used to purchase everyday items. I’d be totally surprised if there weren’t coupons for just about every household item we use.
In a culture that is synonymous with instant gratification. It has become increasingly difficult to go against the grain even when you’re trying to meet your basic needs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with consuming goods and services that are needed, provided that you are disciplined about our spending. Where we experience pitfalls is when we become impulsive buyers. By setting financial priorities based on your monthly budget, you would have given some forethought to your wants versus your needs. Delaying gratification will not only help save you money, it will help you stay on the path to being financially sustainable.
Renegotiate Monthly Payments
In instances where you are able to prove financial need, creditors may be willing to work with you to help create a more affordable monthly payment on home mortgages and student loans. If you are at risk of falling behind with any of your creditors, reach out to them as soon as you can. Do not be afraid to talk through the possibility of re-negotiating lower payments to accommodate your new household budget. Again, the pandemic has hit everyone pretty severely, creditors will be more willing to understand.
Making Heathy Choices
As a vegetarian I’ve noticed that I spend the majority of my time shopping in one section of the grocery store…usually the produce section. Generally speaking, fruits and veggies are less expensive than say steak. Because, I have the ability to control my food choices, I can ultimately control my spending. Given that globally we are becoming more health conscious, it is always a good practice to revisit our eating habits, since, “we are what we eat.” In addition, unhealthy habits such as smoking or excessive drinking also contribute to draining our financial resources. Living a healthier lifestyle will not only improve your overall health, it can help you save a few dollars as well.
Cancel Monthly Subscriptions
Losing household income forces you to look at your financial picture and more specifically, puts pressure on your additional resources. Another measure you can utilize to mitigate the effect of losing income is cancelling monthly subscriptions. Depending on the nature and the amount of the subscription, you could save hundreds of dollars annually. For example, instead of having a monthly $19.99 or $239.88 annual subscription taken from your account, you can use those funds to pay off bills or replenish your personal savings.
Sell Items on Ebay
You remember the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well that does have some relevance here. Sites such as eBay.com provides a platform for anyone to both sell or purchase items anywhere in the world. You can also use emerging sites like Bonanza, or a local Craigslist site. That said, there is a market for used items such as clothing, household items, books and collectibles. In fact, you can sell virtually anything online. Take a look around your home and locate items that you no longer use or find useful, take some pictures and post it online. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are people who can’t wait to give you money for stuff you didn’t need.
Be Creative About Recreation
The covid19 pandemic continues to be one of the most challenging moments in America’s history. It has kept us sheltered in place for most of the year, something this nation has seldom seen. Having limited opportunities to recreate or be creative can be detrimental to our overall well-being. In light of both the pandemic and our financial constraints, finding new ways to be creative and to recreate can be a positive experience. Taking walks, jogging in a public park, along a public beach, taking a free online class, hiking or biking are not only cost effective but also very positive ways we can impact our quality of life. Some things are extremely critical to our long-term physical and mental health particularly as we try our best to manage the stress caused from the fallout of the worse pandemic we’ve seen in our life-time.
Robby Thomas is a writer and financial literacy advocate. He has served as a financial services professional for more than two decades and as an Adjunct professor. He serves as Chairman of the Las Vegas Black Business Chamber of Commerce. Robby is the President and CEO of www.gen-rise.com, a Las Vegas based economic empowerment platform which focuses on financial education, access to credit and capital.