Save Budgeting

Coronavirus Got You Working From Home? 5 Ways To Keep Your Budget In Check (And Actually Save Money!) 

Kathryn Tuggle  |  March 18, 2020

COVID-19 has already negatively impacted the world economy, but it doesn’t have to derail your monthly budget — in fact, it may open up new avenues for you and your family to save. 

Unless you’re a first responder, a medical professional, or one of the millions of Americans who are working hard to keep our pharmacies, banks, restaurants, and grocery stores running smoothly right now (AKA unless you’re a real life, legit, straight up superhero), you may be spending a lot of time at home. Like, A LOT of time. 

In fact, I’m writing this story from my couch right now, and to help me write it, I sent out a message via Slack to all our HerMoney staffers and asked for their best money-saving tips we can all employ while (voluntarily) quarantined. Yes, COVID-19 has already hurt our economy, but it doesn’t have to irreparably damage your household budget. In fact, it’s actually possible to save money while sheltering in place. If you’re going to be working-from-home for the foreseeable future, we got you covered with some necessary budgeting and money-saving tips. (Maybe not as necessary as toilet paper, but still good to have on hand.) 

1) Save On Small Daily Costs That Really Add Up 

“As a full-time remote employee for the past four-plus years, I’ve had plenty of time to get used to being hermetically sealed off from society,” writes HerMoney senior reporter Dayana Yochim. “I think my friends, family and neighbors will be surprised at how much money they can save without even trying.” 

For example, there’s no need to stop for a morning coffee because you’re too rushed to make a to-go cup for your commute. Same with packing a lunch — you don’t need to plan ahead when everything you need to make a meal is waiting for you in the next room. The long-term savings are even greater when you consider other work-related costs, like gas and public transportation, or professional attire, all of which go away when you work from home. “I only have to look polished from the waist up for video conference calls,” Dayana says. 

Don’t get us wrong — if your morning coffee is one of your favorite small joys in life, then keep enjoying it. Just be smart about how it fits into your overall budget. As HerMoney Founder and CEO Jean Chatzky wrote in a popular story last year, “The F***ing Latte Is A F***ing Metaphor”: “Coffee is just an example of something you don’t have to buy, but that you choose to buy. It’s a discretionary purchase that you make with your discretionary income. The real point here is that money is a limited resource. And we all have to choose how we want to use it.” 

2) Don’t Overbuy on Entertainment

Yes, we’re all afraid of being bored in the coming weeks, but don’t be so worried that you go overboard on stocking up on entertainment, advises HerMoney Editorial Assistant Rebecca Cohen. “You could end up with piles of books, movies, puzzles, and games that you’ll never have time to touch. It’s fine to snag a new book or two, and if you happen to finish it quickly and book stores close down, you can always buy an e-book to satisfy your reading needs.” 

In terms of movies, yes, there are a lot of titles that cost just $3.99 — but over the course of several weeks, those charges will absolutely start to add up. Before you click “buy,” take a scroll through free titles. There are countless free options out there that are already included with your monthly subscription to services like Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV and more. “Don’t make a purchase until you’ve checked out all the free options, and you’ve decided that a particular movie is what you definitely want to watch right this second,” Rebecca advises. 

And let’s be honest — binge watching is a great way to pass the time during hibernation, says HerMoney Administrative Assistant Sharon Wolin. And if there’s something you love and you know you’re going to watch the whole season (or several seasons), look for a deal on buying the entire catalog of episodes. “When you buy entire seasons, you stand to save a few dollars compared to buying each episode individually,” Sharon says. 

3) Avoid filling the time with online shopping

Yeah, so this one was my idea, because I’m the WORST about scrolling my favorite retailers’ sites when I know there are likely to be bargains… With many brick and mortar storefronts shuttered across the country, retailers are likely to be offering some steep discounts in the weeks to come. If you really need some new things (and you know your job is going to be secure in a possible recession) then by all means take advantage of some sales — but resist the temptation to go overboard. No, you don’t need three new swimsuits. Yes, there’s a chance that those deeply discounted snow boots will NOT be the style you want when next winter rolls around. No, you do not need another blouse in black. All. Your. Blouses. Are. Black. (Maybe it’s just me?) 

Anyway, whenever I’m lured in by sales, I try to channel my best Jean Chatzky, and her Money Rule #41: “If its 50% off, it’s still 50% on.” (This comes from her book, “Money Rules: The Simple Path To Lifelong Security”  and it’s one of my favorites!) 

4) Watch out for exorbitant delivery charges.

We all go through periods where we get really sick of our own cooking…  And if we’re going to be stuck (mostly) at home for several weeks, things could get boring fast, Dayana says. “But watch out: Uber Eats will destroy your food budget in just a few meals after you add up fees, delivery charges and tips.” 

Also keep an eye on your costs if you use a grocery delivery app: “The low-cost brands available when you shop in the store are often missing from what’s offered via the app. Plus, you may not be given the option to use your supermarket store rewards card on your order,” Dayana cautions. 

5) Cook at home, and save half for later. 

“One thing I’ve done to prepare for the pandemic is to make double batches of our dinner meals and freeze half,” says HerMoney’s Social Media Manager, Christine Burke.  “You can buy the meat, produce and legumes for your favorite dishes in bulk, and make double batches of the foods you know your family loves. Knowing you have comfort food in the freezer will keep you from ordering food with high delivery fees and charges.” Not only will this method help you save money by avoiding restaurants, but also buying food in bulk is a great way to save all the time. (Costco, anyone?) Plus, when you’re freezing half of what you’re making, you don’t have to worry about the leftovers spoiling. 

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