With the COVID-19 national emergency, there’s been a lot of talk of self-quarantining for a minimum of two weeks, and many employers are switching to work-from-home operations where able. There are a lot of unknowns in every industry—are you going to still be working during this time of uncertainty? Are you in a holding pattern while your employer is shut down for deep cleaning and sanitizing?
Here are some tips on how to try to stretch your income during this crisis.
1. Plan your supplies
With government officials urging people to stay inside and avoid large gatherings, this is the perfect time to go through your cupboards, fridge, and freezer to take stock of what you already have. Do you have expired canned goods from 2013? Ditch them to make room for shelf-stable food. After you review what you already have, make a game plan. This game plan can include planning your meals for 1-2 weeks at a time and making a list of everything you will need for that time frame. If you’re in a situation where income may be limited during a quarantine, stick to what you need and limit luxuries. While you’re shopping for the list of groceries you just made, grab some extra shelf-stable foods to keep as a backup. But please, don’t buy the entire soup and pasta section at the grocery store and leave nothing for everyone else. Be conscientious of others in your community who also may need to grab some extra shelf-stable foods and snacks to ensure their pantries are also stocked).
Also, don’t overextend yourself financially to stock up. If you can only afford to buy a few cans of soup and a box or two of pasta, it’s better than not buying anything extra and needing it later. Buying an extra box or can here and there when you go grocery shopping will add up in the long run, but also won’t break the bank each time you go shopping.
After you’ve gone through your kitchen, it’s probably a good idea to go through the bathroom cabinet, too. The last thing you’re going to want to deal with during quarantine or a crisis is realizing you don’t have cold medicine when you really need it. Again, be conscious of others in your community and don’t buy the store out of items such as toilet paper, cold medicine, hand soap, and hand sanitizer. This goes along with not overextending yourself financially—if you can only afford to buy one box of cold medicine, don’t justify buying 10 boxes during the COVID-19 outbreak. Be smart and buy a little extra at a time when you can afford it.
2. Don’t boredom shop online
If you’re stuck home in quarantine, chances are you are going to get bored. Two weeks is a long time to be stuck at home or only leaving when necessary. Online shopping is so easy to find yourself doing, whether it’s from the couch or on your computer. Being stuck in quarantine gives you a lot of time to sit around and do some shopping online for clothes, supplies, or knick-knacks. If you find yourself doing this—limit it to “window shopping.” Save items you may want to eventually buy, but don’t spend your entire day buying clothes, shoes, and whatever else you come across. This will add up VERY fast, leaving your bank account feeling empty. If you absolutely need something, ordering online is a great way to avoid crowds, but boredom shopping online during quarantine is the fastest way to ensure that you are financially strapped.
3. Plan your bills
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have bills. You may pay rent or a mortgage, utility expenses like cable, water, electric or gas, and plenty of other bills, such as a car payment, auto insurance, credit card bills, or medical bills. Generally speaking, know how much your bills are going to be every month. An easy way to make sure you aren’t overextending yourself financially is to make a spreadsheet of monthly bills that need to be paid to find out how much you need to dedicate to bills, and how much extra you have for food/household items, and how much you can keep as savings. This can help you see how much wiggle room you have for discretionary expenses and saving. In addition to making the spreadsheet of monthly bills, you can utilize a planner and input your bill due dates into it to ensure you don’t miss a payment. This could also be done with a wall calendar.
If, during this crisis, your income becomes more limited, check to see if your utilities offer a “budget billing” option for their services. Some budget billing programs allow you to pay the exact same every month and then readjusts every six months to one year based on a monthly average of usage. Some months this means you are paying more than your actual bill would be, but it creates a nice nest egg of an overage balance when your bill is more than what you pay monthly in the budgeted billing. This will be helpful if you are working from home or otherwise stuck home for an extended period of time, as your utility usage will likely go up.
If you are suddenly stuck at home on quarantine or working from home, or your income is suddenly temporarily limited, be smart with your spending. Don’t boredom shop while you suddenly have more free time on your hands and make sure you plan for your bills so you don’t overspend in other areas and fail to leave enough money for bills.
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