Free up cash in your budget
By Courtney Jespersen
You’re not the only one with a tight budget. Millions of people are currently struggling with unemployment, lost hours and lowered wages.
There’s little comfort in knowing that others are feeling strapped. But you may be relieved to hear there are ways to make things easier — even if you’re out of work or can’t make more money.
We talked to financial experts for advice about 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
Depending on where you live, you’re probably spending a lot of time at home these days. Devote at least some of the free time to analyzing your finances.
Go over every single transaction in your current account, savings account, credit card bills and so forth, says Robinson Crawford, certified financial planner and founder of the adviser firm Montebello Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona.
Crawford says 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, suggests Cady North, CFP, founder of North Financial Advisors LLC, with offices in San Diego, California and Washington, DC.
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, it doesn’t hurt to call up and see if you can negotiate additional savings. That’s particularly applicable if you’re not driving right now.
Another option? If you have student loans, your federal student loan payment has likely already been suspended, but you’ll want to take the extra step to ensure you’ve stopped your automatic payments. That is, if you don’t want to continue making payments right now.
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. 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.’”
UNPLUG AND UNSUBSCRIBE
After the big expenses, seal smaller holes in your spending. Try looking around your house, recommends Shehara L. Wooten, CFP, founder of investment advisor Your Story Financial LLC.
Unplug electronics when they’re not in use. 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 says 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’re not watching one of your streaming subscriptions during COVID, news flash: You’re never going to watch it.”
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 US$15, US$20 here and there extra in your budget,” North says.
GET MONEY BACK
Finally, while you may not be able to find a new job right now, there could still be methods to expand your budget that you hadn’t considered.
One way is to sign up for cash-back shopping sites or apps to earn money back when you purchase groceries and other essentials, Wooten points out. With some apps, you scan your receipt after a transaction for post-purchase savings.
As you free up money, make sure you’re devoting those newfound funds to absolute necessities first, like food and shelter.
Every change you can make — no matter how major or minor — can make a difference.
Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @courtneynerd.