Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, people were having financial hardships. Following the pandemic and the effect that it’s had on the economy, 70% of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. It’s particularly gloomy for older Americans and people of color.
However, all hope is not lost. If you are unfortunately having difficulty financially, you might be able to turn that around regardless of the economic conditions.
1. Look for the bare necessities.
At the moment, the only thing you should be concerned with is making enough money to handle the essentials. I’m talking about having a roof over your head and food on the table. Running water, electricity, and even the internet/mobile phone can also be thrown here.
As for everything else? They need to be placed on the backburner. After all, what’s the point in booking a trip to Hawaii if you’re emaciated?
The first step in this is to create a budget. I know a lot of us have night terrors of the dreaded “B” word. But, it’s simply subtracting your expenses from how much money you’re bringing in. Whatever is left can be placed somewhere like a savings account.
Another perk of a budget is that it helps you identify any discrepancies. For instance, if you’re spending more than you’re making, then you need to eliminate unnecessary expenses and make the following improvements:
- If making your rent or mortgage is still difficult, ask if you can split payments or have late fees waived. If you’re still struggling, you may want to downsize or find ways to monetize your property, like having a roommate or renting out your garage.
- Keep your food budget under control through meal planning and utilizing your pantry. Also, make the most of coupons and buy generic.
- Be mindful of your energy and water consumption to keep bills low. But, you can also inquire about waived late fees or financial hardship programs to reduce the amount of your bill.
- If you have a vehicle, compare insurance policies or look for more affordable alternatives like biking or carpooling.
2 Seal up those money leaks.
I already alluded to this above. But, when you create a budget, you’re able to spot and eliminate unnecessary expenses. For example, if you noticed that you go out to dinner once a week, and your head is barely above water, then that’s something that you probably shouldn’t be doing currently.
Additionally, a budget can help you find money leaks. Even if you’re not exactly familiar with the term, I’m sure you have a good idea of what they are. They’re those sneaky vampire-life expenses that are draining your accounts.
Some of the most common money leaks include:
- Subscriptions and memberships. Remember when you signed up to a gym because it was offering an introductory price? You went twice, and now you’re being charged full-price. The same is true of streaming, magazine, or app subscriptions you totally forgot about.
- Insurance that you really don’t need, like for your iPhone.
- Late fees can be avoided if you enroll in auto-pay.
- Monthly fees, ATM charges, and overdraft penalties from your bank. Switch to a credit union or bank that offers these services for free.
- Wasting food. Either freeze or get creative, like turning iffy produce into soups, to save money.
- Paying for brand-name products or not comparing prices before making a purchase.
- Letting rewards that you’re earned expire.
- Random emergency expenses, such as a flat tire on your car. If you haven’t yet, build an emergency fund to handle the unexpected without relying on credit.
Need some more tips? Here are 101 unique ways to save money.
3 Don’t worry about debt.
Now that I have your attention, I’m in no way suggesting that you stop paying back your debt. Rather, you may have to reassess your financial goals for the time being. For example, you may have planned to pay off your credit card debt, but the economic climate means you can only make the minimum payments.
“Most financial experts will warn you about the dangers of making only minimum payments on your credit cards, explains Founder of CreditWriter.com Michelle Black. “But when you’re facing a financial crisis, you may occasionally need to put the normal rules on hold.”
Simply paying the minimum amount due should help prevent:
- Credit card delinquency
- Late fees
- The penalty APR on your account
- Potentially severe credit damage from late payments
“Most of all, paying the lowest amount your credit card company requires can free up additional cash for immediate needs,” adds Black. “And, if you’re trying to figure out how to put food on the table or keep your utilities on for another month, every dollar counts.”
While you should be aware of the drawbacks, such as racking up interest charges and a declining credit score, you have to do what needs to be done right now. But, when you can become more financially stable, get back to paying down your debt.
Additionally, you may also want to look into relief options like:
- Negotiating better fees and rates.
- Balance transfers or a personal loan to consolidate.
- Asking if they can lower or delay payments.
- Establishing a payment plan to pay off existing balances.
4 Take advantage of discounts and freebies.
If there is one page that you should take out from the frugal living playbook, it’s looking out for coupons, discounts, and freebies, such as:
- Buying used at thrift shops, garage sales, or sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
- Download a coupon app.
- When on sale, stock on non-perishable items.
- Head to your local library to check out books and even DVDs.
- Visit museums and parks on free days.
- Use discounts on your birthday or if you’re in school, a senior citizen, or a healthcare worker.
For me personally, I get the most use out of my grocery store’s app. I’ve saved close to $70 during my last two visits alone. I also get exclusive coupons and rewards, such as frozen pizza.
Also, as a T-Mobile customer, I snag deals like a free night disc rental at Redbox. But, here comes my favorite part. I can have a pizza and movie night for zilch.
Sure. I prefer a freshly made pie. But, I’m definitely not going to turn down any pizza — frozen or not! More importantly, I’m taking my freebies and having a little fun with them.
5. Become a certified DIYer.
Another way to live frugally is to make the products you would typically buy, such as cleaning products. What’s more, it’s also learning how to:
- Cut your own hair.
- Repair and tailor your clothing.
- Fixing a leaky pipe
- Changing the oil in your car.
- Refurbishing old furniture.
Also, don’t forget to turn to sources like friends, family, or YouTube for advice. But, if you’re not comfortable or the project is above your expertise, call in a pro. The key is to start small and assess projects before spending money.
6. Sharing is caring.
Last weekend I wanted to rack up the leaves in my yard. It was a pleasant autumn day, so I didn’t mind spending time outside. And, I also don’t mind the manual labor.
When it came to removing the leaves on my walkway, I realized that it would be much easier to use a leaf blower. Instinctively, I went on my phone to see how much one would set me back. Thankfully, I remembered that a friend had one that I could borrow.
I know some of you may take this like I’m championing some non-existent utopia where socialism reigns supreme. That’s totally not it. My point is that instead of spending your hard-earned money on a non-essential item, either borrow or even rent it.
And, you may also want to consider that when it comes to things like streaming services. For example, I have Disney + and share it will my sister. In return, I use her Netflix account.
7. Pick up some extra cash.
Finally, even if you’re sticking to your budget and living below your means, you may still be scrambling just to pay for your necessities. In fact, 69% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. If you fall into that category, it may be unrealistic for you to either pay off your debt or have an amble savings account.
To make matters worse, we still don’t know exactly when life will return to normal. Some anticipate that the economy will rebound. Others, on the other hand, believe that the ripple effects will be felt for years.
Regardless of your financial situation before or after COVID, the best way to help make ends meet would be to bring in extra money. Because we’re in turbulent times, you probably want to fight about landing a six-figure consulting side gig or passive incomes like investing.
However, there are still many ways for you to have more than one income source so that you can get ahead of your bills and set some aside for whatever financial goals you want to meet.
Cash-in on your skills.
Normally, this is where you would do things like start a blog or develop an online course. While not all that expensive, you probably don’t have the extra funds to pay for expenses like hosting and marketing.
Instead, list your services on freelance sites like Fiverr or UpWork. You could also ask for referrals from your current network. Try to focus on a niche, however, so that you’ll stand out.
Monetize your hobbies.
If you make handmade products, you could sell them online through sites like Etsy – which are free to join. If you’re a dog person, you could sign-up to become a dog walker or sitter. Into photography? You could sell your images.
Who knows? Maybe your hobby can eventually become a thriving business.
Fill a demand.
While the coronavirus has definitely taken a toll on many businesses, certain ones are thriving. In fact, Kiplinger has a list of 37 companies that are hiring. Many of these companies are in the delivery or retail industries, like Amazon, Dominos, and CVS.
What if you’re retired? The AARP has eight part-time jobs that you can do remotely. These include bookkeeper, administrative assistant, registered nurse, paralegal, and customer service representative. Another idea if you have grandchildren would be to watch them when their parents have to work.
I also have a friend who told me that substitute teachers are in high demand. Better yet? Her district is all virtual and is paying over $100 a day!
Final words of advice.
The most important thing you can do right now is to take steps forward, not backward. For example, if you canceled one of your streaming services, that might be another $15 in your pocket. If you set that aside for a year, that alone adds up to $180.
Over time, the progress that you’re making will become slightly bigger. That $180 added with the money you’re saving from not going to restaurants might be able to pay-off a credit card. And, the money you paid in interest could put towards an emergency fund.