As the coronavirus disrupts our daily lives, people are worried about the effects on their budgets. Being told to do nothing and wait while uncertainty prevails just adds to the stress. Taking some practical steps to manage your money can give you a better handle on your finances.
With rates going down, now might be a good time to get a better handle on your debt.
Corral credit cards.
If you have credit card balances, see if you qualify for a card with lower interest (or a no-interest introductory rate) and transfer your balances from higher-interest cards (though be aware there’s usually a fee for transfers).
Manage your mortgage.
Have a mortgage? Refinancing at a lower rate could reduce your payments now and help you spend less on interest in the long term. (There are some costs to refinancing, so do your research.)
Ease student loan stress.
If student loan payments are straining your budget right now (especially if your income is taking a hit at the moment), you could look into refinancing or deferring your payments for a time. The recent announcement of delayed federal student loan payments may have an impact on how these options affect you, so call your loan servicing company to get details.
Managing the budget
Whenever there’s a big upheaval in the world, the ripple effects can show up in your day-to-day budget. Taking control of your spending can help you weather both the real challenges and the stress of the unknown.
Stock up smarter
While everyone feels the need to stock up, few of us have money in the budget to clear out Costco. Here are some small, reasonable ways to get what you need and stay on budget.
: To reduce waste and grocery bills, center your shopping list on affordable, shelf-stable foods that won’t spoil like rice, pasta, and beans. Look for fresh foods that freeze well (like bread and shredded cheese) and long-lasting produce (like onions and carrots).
Shop your own home
: You might be surprised at how much you already have in your house to keep you comfortable while saying in. That lonely can of pumpkin in the back of the cabinet? Make pumpkin muffins! The stack of half-finished crafts or unread books in the corner? Cheaper than renting movies online! Do an inventory of what’s right under your nose before you run out to buy more.
: Consider picking up just the few things you’d need if you have a common cold, like cough drops and antihistamine. If you take a prescription medication regularly, call your doctor to ask if you need an extra supply, and call your insurance company to make sure it’s covered.
Stay on top of expenses
With the economy changing rapidly, keeping a budget and tracking expenses can help you maintain better control and give you peace of mind. If you haven’t examined your budget closely in a while, now’s a good time to look for any waste and opportunities to save money.
If you’re not already budgeting, set up a budgeting worksheet. Check out options at Mint.com
Holed up at home? Try streamlining your streaming services so you have plenty of entertainment options without straining your budget.
Look for monthly bills you could reduce, like a more affordable internet package or cell phone plan.
Ordering food delivery can be a convenience and a comfort, but it can also eat into your budget quickly. Recipe blogs help you commit to cooking at home more often. If you do order in, consider getting food from a local restaurant that needs the support.
Unsubscribe from those oh-so-tempting sales emails (Unroll.me makes it super easy).
Shift money as needed
Depending on your situation, you might find yourself with some unexpected expenses, like a babysitter if schools are closed. In addition to tightening up optional spending (like entertainment), remember that this is exactly what emergency funds are for—so if you have one, don’t hesitate to use it.
On the flip side, if you have a reprieve on certain expenses (like spending less on gas because you’re working from home), tuck that money into your emergency fund--or start one now!--so you’ve got a sense of security.
Going into debt should always be a last resort, so use your credit card wisely. If you absolutely need to charge a few things in a pinch, consider making a plan for paying off that debt when your finances allow.
Save on entertainment (and stay connected to friends)
Find creative ways to have fun when your plans have to change. The money you save on going out can bolster your budget or emergency savings. And keeping in touch with the people you love makes weathering any storm less stressful.
Movie theaters gone dark? Use the Netflix Party extension for Chrome for a virtual movie night with friends from afar.
Concert canceled? Create a virtual music party—ask everyone to contribute their favorite song to a shared Spotify playlist (and have a video chat dance-off if you’re anxious to bust a move).
Happy hours curtailed? FaceTime friends for a remote wine night (bonus: the drinks are cheaper!).
Curbing your travel plans? Plan a staycation full of fun activities you never have time for, like a movie marathon, a tour of your city’s parks, or a home spa day.
Lend a hand
Mr. Rogers said it best: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
If you’re lucky enough to have extra money in your budget, using it to help those who are struggling is a great way to ease suffering for others—and reduce your own sense of helplessness at the same time.
Food banks and services for the homeless are in especially dire need right now, so donating to such organizations can make a big impact. Reach out to your local food bank or shelter for a list of donation needs.
Organizations like the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, GoFundMe.org, and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund have set up ways to help people disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Search online for initiatives in your city if you’d like to contribute locally.
If you use delivery or ride-sharing services, tip as generously as you can. Gig workers are being hit especially hard. If you have a few extra bucks, share the love. Opt for no-contact delivery when available to help both you and your delivery driver stay safer.
Spend your money with companies that have publicly committed to ethical practices that help their employees and consumers.
Excerpts printed from Simple.com blog