6 Things to Cut from Your Budget During a Pandemic (Plus, 3 You Should Never Ever Touch)
Whether you’ve recently experienced an income loss or don’t know what to do with that sudden influx of cash (Stimulus checks! Returned camp registration fees!), it’s safe to say that everybody’s budget is currently in flux. And, as you shift to find your new normal and fight to protect your wallet, how do you know which expenses to prioritize and which to cut entirely? Here, six recurring payments you might want to rethink. (And three to definitely, definitely keep paying.)
1. Cut: Car Insurance
Before you do a double take, hear us out: This decision all depends on your circumstances. For example, are you a two-car family? Are one (or both) of you no longer commuting to a job? If you answered yes to either of those questions, there may no longer be a need to shell out in full for what can be a pretty hefty monthly expense. You’ll of course need to understand the fine print on this one before moving ahead. “In most states, auto insurance is required by law,” says Nicole Stokes, managing partner at Northwestern Mutual in Tampa, Florida. “However, evaluating the level of coverage and possibly adjusting is something that individuals with two cars may want to consider to help minimize current costs and provide more budget flexibility.”
2. Keep: Your Grocery Tab (In Fact, You May Want to Pad It a Little)
While it’s smart to trade name brand items for similar but more affordable options, most experts agree that there’s only so much you can cut from a grocery bill when cooking so many meals at home. (And if you want to buy yourself a fancy jar of mustard, we say treat yourself.) That said, you should still have a rough budget in mind, and stick to it. (Per the USDA, the typical family of four spends approximately $1,100 a month.)
3. Cut: Takeout
With restaurants closed, you’re undoubtedly tiring of cooking meal after meal (after meal) at home. Still, it’s important to think of takeout as a treat rather than an everyday necessity. For instance, ordering a large cheese pizza—plus toppings—for a family of four two times a week adds up to as much as $200 a month. And that’s not including delivery fees and tip. That said, when you do decide to splurge on delivery, try to support a local culinary establishments that needs your help during this time.
4. Cut: At Least *One* of Your Streaming Services
We love you, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. But do we use all of you every single night? Probably not. Now’s a good time to reassess and cut the ones you aren’t actually taking advantage of. After all, while you may need Normal People on Hulu or the Sesame Street archives on demand, there may be other shows (and services) that are expendable—or at least have a password you could borrow of a friend.
5. Cut: The Peloton
Yes, exercise is important. But before you shell out for a costly subscription service or piece of equipment, take a beat and ask yourself a few key questions: 1. Are there cheaper ways for me to make this goal happen? (For example, can you try socially distanced cycling outdoors?) 2. Is this something I’m going to continue post-pandemic? 3. Do I desperately need this item, or could the money go farther for me elsewhere? If your answers are no, yes and yes—by all means, get the Peloton.
6. Keep: Your Savings and 401(k) Contributions
That regular deposit to your emergency account or 401(k)? As long as you’re able, keep them up since they’re the key to a strong financial foundation, says Stokes. “Having these extra funds stocked away can help to bring you greater peace of mind amidst other uncertainty right now," she says. And if your income has remained steady during the pandemic, it’s worth looking into ways you can allocate additional funds—like the money you’re not spending on vacation or beauty appointments. “Consider putting money you might be saving while limiting time away from home toward bulking up your emergency savings,” Stokes says. “Or, if you’re feeling comfortable about your emergency savings, any extra income can then be put toward your longer-term goals like saving for a house, starting a family or retirement.”
7. Cut: Frivolous Sale Shopping
Splurging on things you need (say, anything to entertain your child) is totally acceptable, but buying four new pairs of jeans just because they’re half off is a pandemic no-no, says Priya Malani, founder of Stash Wealth. “Sale doesn’t mean free,” she says. And, with fewer places to go and people to see, this is a perfect time to pause your wardrobe spending—or, at the very least, cut it in half. As for what to do with the savings? Put the cash in a rainy day fund or set it aside for a time when you have a reason for a new wardrobe again.
8. Keep: Your Credit Card Payments
If you have debt, credit card payments should be at the top of the list, right after food and shelter. Still, it’s A-OK to make the minimum monthly payment if you’re feeling cash-strapped right now, says Ken Lin, CEO and founder of Credit Karma. There are other ways to mitigate this expense. For instance, Lin says it’s worth reaching out to your lender to see what your options are. “Ask for a lower interest rate or a lower minimum payment,” he suggests. “The worst they can say is no, and many companies are willing to work with consumers right now.” (Credit Karma also offers a debt repayment calculator to help you figure out exactly how to prioritize.)
9. Keep/Cut: Childcare Expenses
It’s a gray area and depends greatly on your financial situation and the level of care (even if it’s virtual) that you’re able to get from your provider. But, according to experts, if you can afford to keep paying a nanny, daycare center or summer camp, you should. That said, it’s completely reasonable to negotiate a lower rate, or set an end-date for making payments.