In a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, the normal rules of life go out the window. That’s especially true if you’ve had your hours cut or if you’ve gotten laid off due to the outbreak.
With little to no income, traditional money-saving advice isn’t all that helpful. You already have a basic budget in place. You know you should make coffee at home and eat out less to save money (as if you had any other choice right now). What you need are realistic ways to slash expenses in line with your new financial situation ― and right away.
We reached out to savings experts to get their best tips for cutting your expenses so there’s more money available for essentials. Give some of these a try if you recently lost your job.
1. Stop contributing to savings.
In most circumstances, you’d be hard-pressed to find a financial expert who recommends not saving money. But if you’re out of work and in danger of falling behind on important bills, it’s OK to put savings goals on the back burner.
“When there’s a big cash crunch, workers shouldn’t feel bad at all about temporarily suspending their contributions,” Kristin McKenna, a certified financial planner with Darrow Wealth Management, told HuffPost. Aside from ensuring you have a small emergency fund, pause contributions to your retirement funds, brokerage accounts, 529 plans and other savings until your income is more stable.
2. Defer loan payments, if possible.
If you’re out of work because of the pandemic, you should make a list of every outstanding debt you have and the monthly payments you make on each one, said Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group. Next, contact each creditor and find out what relief options are available for people in your situation.
“It is likely that the banks you have your mortgage loan, car loan and other lines of credit through will allow you to defer your payments for a minimum of three months, starting now,” Foguth told HuffPost.
Keep in mind, however, that every bank is going to have its own policy regarding how those payments need to be handled once the deferment period is up. Bank of America customers, for example, were shocked to learn that all three mortgage payments would be due in one lump sum at the end of 90 days. Federal student loans, on the other hand, have been placed on automatic deferral through September 30 (though borrowers can continue making payments if they want) and the repayment terms will simply be extended.
3. Work out a payment plan with your landlord.
Rent is the biggest expense for the majority of households. That means if you recently lost your job, rent may be one expense you can’t cover right now. Depending on where you live, eviction moratoriums may be in place to protect you if that’s the case.
“That means that even if you don’t pay rent at the moment, you can’t get evicted,” said Max Kimmel, owner of One Shot Finance.
But that doesn’t mean you can get away with skipping rent payments completely. You’ll need to work out a payment plan with your landlord and eventually repay the money.
“Landlords obviously want to avoid a situation where they aren’t getting any rent and will likely work with you on options for payment plans, or even lesser rent amounts,” Kimmel told HuffPost. “Do some research and weigh your options first. You don’t want to ruin the relationship with your landlord in the long run.”
4. Apply for Medicaid.
If you’ve been laid off and don’t have the means to cover COBRA premiums for a few months, you should apply for Medicaid, Jen Smith, owner of Modern Frugality, said. This government-sponsored program provides health care coverage to those who can’t afford it, regardless of age.
“It doesn’t matter what you were making before. Medicaid looks at your current monthly income to determine eligibility,” Smith said.
5. Adjust your insurance.
With most of your time spent at home thanks to stay-at-home orders, you should be driving a lot less. It’s possible that your car insurance policy is more robust than necessary. And other insurance policy premiums, such as home or life insurance, might be eating away at money you could use for more pressing needs.
Review your current policies and see if there’s anywhere you can cut back for the time being.
“You might be able to eliminate some insurance policies, reduce coverage or raise your deductible,” said John Myers, owner of Myers & Myers Real Estate.
6. Refinance your auto loan.
Considering how far interest rates have fallen over the past month, there’s been a ton of talk about refinancing mortgages. But that’s not the only type of debt that’s prime for refinancing right now.
“Interest rates on auto refinance loans dropped one full point last month as a result of the federal rate cuts, and refinancing rates are expected to continue to drop,” said Cristy Lynch, senior editor at RateGenius.
If you have an expensive car payment and you’re in a position to take advantage of today’s lower rates, Lynch said this is a good time to apply for refinancing, even if you aren’t employed.
“Some lenders are even offering special refinance offers for furloughed employees,” she added.
Another benefit of refinancing: “Customers don’t have a payment due on their new loan for 30 to 90 days after the contract date, meaning that depending on their lender, customers also get a small break from car payments for one to three months,” Lynch said.
7. Downgrade credit cards with annual fees.
Among people who use credit cards, the average person has 3.7 cards. And these days, most credit cards offer some type of rewards, whether it’s cash back or miles toward travel. But the more lucrative the rewards, the higher the chances that it also comes with an annual fee. You might have a card sitting in your wallet now that could cost you $100 or more at the end of the year.
Miguel A. Suro, a writer for The Rich Miser, suggests calling your card issuer and asking to downgrade your card to one that doesn’t charge a fee. You won’t earn as many points or miles, but it’s not like you’ll be traveling soon anyway, he said. And as for any rewards you currently have racked up, cash them in for a credit to your statement or bank account.
8. Transfer your credit card balance.
Another effective way to save money on your credit card is to find a balance transfer offer. Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch suggests looking for a new credit card that offers an introductory 0% annual percentage rate on balance transfers. Though you usually have to pay a 3-5% fee to take advantage of this type of deal, it’s usually worth it if it means paying no interest for a year or longer.
“Typically, I tell people to pay as much toward their credit card debt as possible, but this is not the time to do that if you’re struggling to make ends meet,” Woroch told HuffPost. “This buys you more time to make small payments that are actually going toward your balance instead of just interest. Hopefully, you will get into a better financial position to then make bigger payments toward that debt.”
9. Cut the digital cord.
Many of us ditched premium cable packages long ago in favor of cheaper streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu. But with the proliferation of new services like Sling TV, HBO Go, Disney Plus and more, there’s a good chance your TV bill has grown to be more expensive than ever.
Of course, streaming services might be the last thing you want to cut, considering how much time you’re spending stuck at home these days. But it is possible to stay entertained with free options.
“Your library gives you access to rent digital movies, TV shows, ebooks/audio books and video games,” Woroch said, noting that you can apply for a library card right from your computer. “Even your mobile carrier may be offering a free video streaming service. Sprint, for instance, is giving a free subscription to Hulu, and Verizon gives certain users a free year of Disney Plus and six months of free Apple music.”
10. Call up your service providers.
In addition to lenders, other service providers may be willing to work with you on alternative payment plans temporarily during the pandemic. Brittany Waters, a financial coach at Ready Set Life, said you should make a list of all the companies you’re paying, including cell phone and internet providers as well as utility companies, and ask if they’re providing any financial relief during this time.
“There are many companies allowing reduced or deferred payments,” Waters said. “This can really make a difference in your day-to-day budget. These companies want your business, and they want you to pay them, so they’re likely to work with you to get something rather than you not paying them at all.”
11. Freeze your memberships.
If you pay for certain memberships that you don’t necessarily want to cancel, Waters said you might be able to put them on hold temporarily. For example, if you have an annual contract with your gym and can’t cancel without penalties, the gym might let you pause your payments for a short amount of time or pay a lower rate instead.
“It’s meant for people going on vacation, but it can be a huge advantage during this time period,” Waters said.
12. Trim your subscriptions.
Think of all the free trials and monthly subscriptions you signed up for and then never really used. Whether it’s a subscription to a TV channel you rarely watch or a magazine you haven’t read in months, there’s probably at least one recurring charge you’re still paying for unnecessarily.
But how do you pin down all those extra plans? Drew Cheneler, founder of Simple Money Lyfe, suggested using the app Trim, which combs through your accounts to find subscriptions and other services you might be paying too much for.
“While Trim will help you find easy ways for you to save … the best part is that they will negotiate your cable, internet, phone bills and more so you can save money immediately. Most people do not realize that they are overpaying for certain plans, and Trim will make sure you do not.”
13. Take stock of your pantry.
“The grocery bill is notorious for being a budget-killer, especially now with so many extra meals being eaten at home,” said Emily Bass, owner of Savvy Frugal Mom.
Of course, you probably don’t want to force your family to simply eat less. By taking the time to make a good inventory of what you have in your fridge, freezer and pantry, you can get a better idea of where you stand in terms of necessities, Bass told HuffPost.
“This is going to help you reduce expenses because you will be able to limit store purchases to true needs, not just wants or what you think you need, and you can plan your meals around what you already have on hand,” she said. That not only means less money spent at the grocery store now, but less waste of food you already purchased.
A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus