Money tight? Ways to adjust your budget
You’re not the only one with a tight budget. Millions of Americans are currently struggling with unemployment, lost hours and lowered wages.
We talked to financial experts for advice on getting more mileage out of the money you have available right now. Here are their tips for finding extra money in your monthly budget:
Go line by line
You’re probably spending a lot of time at home these days, so devote some of that free time to analyzing your finances.
Go over every single transaction in your checking account, savings account, credit card bills and so forth, said Robinson Crawford, a certified financial planner. He said you can use a budgeting system to make this step easier. Try an app, Excel file or some other tool.
Once you see all of the dollars going in and out, you’ll be able to identify areas for savings. And you’ll be ready to start making some (or all) of the changes outlined below.
Pick up the phone
As you look at your line items, focus on the largest bills first, suggested Cady North, another financial planner..
Lowering substantial, recurring payments has the potential to reap the biggest savings. For example, even if you already received an automatic rebate from your auto insurance company [due to the pandemic], it doesn’t hurt to call and see if you can negotiate additional savings. That’s particularly applicable if you’re not driving right now.
[Ed. Note: If you have a federally backed mortgage and are able to attest that the pandemic has caused you financial hardship, you can request up to one full year’s “forbearance” on mortgage payments from your lender. That’s only a temporary hold on your debt payments, but if you need the extra money now and expect to be able to resume payments later, it can be a big help.]
If you choose to contact companies and service providers you do business with, be honest about how COVID-19 has affected you. Crawford recommends telling them about your situation and why you’re asking for help, especially if you’ve been laid off [or suffered steep declines in investment savings]. They’re likely to empathize.
“Part of the reasoning should be, ‘Listen I’m trying to do everything to keep all of my bills paid. I want your service. I want to keep you. I want to stay as a customer,’” he said.
Unplug and unsubscribe
After the big expenses, seal smaller holes in your spending. Try looking around your house, recommended certified financial planner Shehara L. Wooten.
Unplug electronics when they’re not in use. (They’re using electricity even while turned off.) Stop buying disposable paper towels and paper plates — switch to reusable towels and plates instead. Monitor the thermostat and lights as you spend increased amounts of time at home.
You can also pull the plug on unnecessary subscriptions. Crawford said now might be the right time to cancel those streaming services and online shopping memberships, especially ones you haven’t found use for even while you’ve been cooped up at home.
If you still like (and use) your subscriptions and aren’t willing to give them up completely, cut them out temporarily. Some companies allow you to go online and pause your account for a period of time.
“That’s a way to get $15, $20 here and there extra in your budget,” North said.
Get money back
Sign up for cash-back shopping sites or apps to earn money back when you purchase groceries and other essentials, Wooten suggested. With some apps, you scan your receipt after a transaction for post-purchase savings.
Every change you can make — no matter how major or minor — can make a difference.