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Staying home? Make sure you’re only paying for your current lifestyle

Many discretionary expenses are now unavailable or unnecessary.

Bobbi Rebell, CFP®

Personal Finance Expert at Tally

April 7, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in financial losses for millions of people in the United States. Many are experiencing job loss and reduced hours though no fault of their own. Even more are uncertain about the future of their finances, in large part because they have little control over whether they will continue to have the same, or less money coming in.

One thing you have control over, to a large extent, is your expenses.

Now that a majority of Americans are staying home, some of our biggest discretionary expenses have either become unavailable or unnecessary. And with such drastic changes in people’s income, now is the time to focus on ways to cut costs, reduce spending and stretch your money.

Here are a few of my simplest ways to keep a little extra cash in your pocket while you're staying home:

Revisit your recurring expenses

If you’re like me, then a good amount of your spending goes on credit cards. And now that it’s time to cut back a bit, credit card statements are a great place to start.

Review all of your credit card statements from the last three months. Specifically, look for any recurring expenses that you don’t need or aren’t able to use right now, like:

  • Gym memberships

  • Co-working spaces

  • Clothing rental

  • Grocery services

With so much else going on, it can be easy to forget about these recurring expenses. Don’t assume that the auto-billing on your credit card will stop just because a service isn’t available.

Remember that some of these things are billed every 3 months, 6 months or even annually. If you know you have recurring expenses with various billing cycles, you may want to review more than just 3 months of credit card statements.

Scale back your digital subscriptions

Subscriptions are another common recurring expense, and there are ways to save money without canceling them entirely. Because let’s be honest: That Netflix account is more important than ever!

But take a look at your Netflix account, too. There are different tiers of membership for many of these services. Netflix has 3 different tiers. If you’re at home and only using one screen, you may want to scale back. Similarly, Hulu has 4 different memberships options, ranging from about $6 a month to over $60 a month.

With so much else going on, it can be easy to forget about these recurring expenses. Don’t assume that the auto-billing on your credit card will stop just because a service isn’t available.

Take the time — you know you have it — to compile a list of any streaming services, paid apps or other types of digital subscriptions you pay for. Look for overlap between them and consider canceling any redundancies. If you have multiple movie streaming services, it’s probably best to limit yourself to one while money is tight.

For any paid apps, determine whether you actually need the premium version. If there’s a free version available, you may want to temporarily downgrade before the next billing cycle.

Also remember that many news websites that have paywalls are offering all or at least part of their content for free right now. So, be sure to take advantage of those offers while you're staying home.

Flip your thinking on discretionary spending

This is another approach if you’re looking to be more aggressive. Instead of cutting costs that aren’t “essential,” start at zero and add in things, one by one, starting with the most urgent.

First might come things like insurance, food and medical prescriptions. Next might be housing costs, means of transportation and so on. Everyone is different when it comes to what’s essential, so it’s up to you to prioritize accordingly.

Instead of cutting costs that aren’t “essential,” start at zero and add in things, one by one, starting with the most urgent.

You can also apply this strategy to things like digital subscriptions and paid apps. Start by canceling all the services you’re paying for. Then, if you find yourself really missing something, give yourself permission to renew one. You may find that these things aren’t as necessary as you once thought.

What should I do with the money I’ve saved?

Once you find a few simple ways to cut costs, tally up the amount you’ll save into a single number. If you can, consider putting that money toward any existing debt you have or use it to build up your savings. If you have bills to pay, you’ll want to handle those first.

Prioritize the bills that are most essential, while making sure to stay on track with making your debt payments — and prioritize based on consequences. Think about bills that, if you don’t pay, will have the biggest negative impact on you. For example, unless you’re certain that you’re getting an extension on insurance or rent, you probably want to pay that first.

With other bills, consider where you might have some wiggle room on the amount or the timing of the payments. If you can’t pay a bill, determine if you can negotiate a payment plan or even a reduction. [Tally hardship plan mentioned here, if link available.]

Most importantly: Don’t ignore your bills and leave them unpaid!

If you know you can’t pay a bill, you should also immediately communicate with the person or entity to which the debt is owed and work out a solution. In many cases, especially given the far-reaching circumstances, they will want to find a way to work with you.

Is there a lesson in all of this?

The biggest thing that we will emerge with a new normal that will change our perspective on what matters in life. Our values will change; in some cases, for the better.

For those who are fortunate enough to do so, staying home with family is a reminder that we don’t “need” all the things we think we do. So much of what we spend money on, when it’s suddenly not available like that morning latte or other on the go treats we used to “need,” we realize we don’t actually miss.

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