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.
Whether you’re one of the more than 16 million 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 favorite 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. Find out more about how to avoid germs while grocery shopping.
Canceling 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, including popular chains Crunch and Blink, have automatically frozen memberships for locations that have been closed by state 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.”
More than 43 million Americans are paying off student debt, according to CNBC. But in response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the federal government passed legislation that allows people with federal loans to hold off payment until September 30, with no additional interest accrual. “It’s not a bad idea to make payments now if you can, because it will allow you to get ahead on your loans,” Tayne says. “But if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can take a temporary break from your student loan payments, which can be immensely helpful.”
With movie theaters, concert venues, and stadiums closed in most parts of the country, you won’t be able to spend your discretionary income on going to see your favorite 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 percent of your take-home pay goes toward needs, 30 percent toward wants, and 20 percent toward debt payments and savings. “And it’s that 30 percent where you can really cut back on spending,” Palmer says.
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.” Then try these other 20 ways to save money.
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 is under $2 a gallon in many places, and your savings will add up quickly.
Though you’re not going able to hit the sale rack at your favorite 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 percent off from your favorite brands. 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 canceled can help you curb spending on expenses 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. Making the most of what you already have is another way to save money on clothes.
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 towns 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 mow your lawn yourself.
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 what cleaning supplies kill bacteria—and which ones don’t.
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. Consider trimming your hair at home if necessary. Worried about messing up your hair with at-home color? Some salons are providing curbside service and Facetime sessions at a reduced cost. Next, find out why this woman isn’t coloring her own her 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.”
This may also be a tempting time to take money out of your 401(K), but you should only do that if necessary. “You want to look for other sources that would be accessible without taking on the major tax hit of raiding the 401(K),” Kruman says. “Home equity loans are great, and they are at rates much lower than the tax rates of the 401(K). Also, cash value life insurance policies are good sources to borrow from as well.”
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.” To keep things in perspective, find out how much the coronavirus is costing the world.
For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.