How to Budget During a Pandemic
Right now with everything that’s going on, navigating your finances might feel overwhelming. However, there are some strategies that will help you manage cash shortfalls. Mariel Beasley of Duke University’s Common Cents Lab offers ways to help you manage during these trying times.
Use Mental Accounting
Translated, this means prioritizing what’s most important and cutting back in those areas that aren’t. While pretty obvious, the finer point according to Beasley is this approach will help you stick to your spending plan by reminding you of your opportunity costs — i.e. what trade-offs you might be making with each purchase. For instance, you might not be able to buy that special something you’ve had your eye on, but you will be able to buy food. Here are the three buckets she recommends for your budget:
- Your Bills: Non-negotiable monthly bills like rent, mortgage, utilities, child care, car payment, insurance, phone, and internet.
- Weekly Expenses: These costs might vary, but they include groceries, gas, food delivery, and other miscellaneous expenses.
- Future Expenses: What’s leftover after you pay your bills and current expenses? Even if you think you don’t have much left, set aside this cash for an emergency fund or retirement savings in high-yield saving accounts like the American Express® High Yield, or Marcus account by Goldman Sachs. Alliant Credit Union even offers a 0.55 percent interest rate on savings accounts. By comparison, the national savings average is 0.05 percent APY. Make sure your money works as hard as it can.
Try Per-Spend vs. Per Month
Instead of budgeting $200 for groceries for the whole month, decide how many times you’ll go to the supermarket during the month (five times), then stick to a per trip budget ($40). You might not spend as much as you think you will. (Tip: Buy store brands, as they’re cheaper and just as good.) Whether you work a job that pays you regularly, you’re on unemployment or you’re living on Social Security, Beasley says that this will help you stretch your money longer between paychecks.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Instead of waiting until you’re at a crisis point, act now to protect yourself. Here are some ways to do this:
- Identify Local Food Pantries. Feeding America is a nationwide network that helps you locate a food bank near you. Organizations such as churches and charities are also pitching in, offering everything from food donations to job search assistance. Government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid are options, as well as HEAP (heating your home), should you need something like this.
- Have a Plan for Your Rent/Mortgage. If you’re concerned about eviction, understand your rights as a tenant, and most importantly, stay in communication with your landlord. One solution is to get a roommate to share expenses. If you’re running behind on your mortgage, seek out help from your mortgage broker. One way to generate income is to rent out an extra room in your home. If you have family or friends who can help, reach out to them. While the latter might feel like a last resort, you could consider bartering: provide a service to them they might usually pay for like car washes, dog walking, or house cleaning in exchange for the financial help.
- Talk to Your Creditors. Contact your creditors to see if you can get a reduced interest rate on any of your payments. You also might ask for discounts and deferment options. Many card issuers are offering financial hardship assistance (waived late fees, flexibility with payments, even skipped payments) during the coronavirus pandemic.
The key to all this is slowing down and focusing on the basics – getting through each week and each day. While the pandemic might feel like it will never end, it will: it’s inevitable. Until then, these tactics can help you take control and stay afloat.
Coronavirus: Credit Card Issuers Offer Financial Assistance (cnbc.com)