While we are still in the thick of the pandemic, the full financial impact of the coronavirus isn’t yet completely known. Most Americans are currently abiding by social distancing guidelines and shelter in place orders.
Going to work or school, meeting up for activities, and frequenting restaurants is the normal day-to-day routine for many of us, and now that routine has been disrupted. We can’t eat in restaurants, go see a movie, take children to playgrounds, visit friends, or even just spend time browsing through a clothing store. Industries that are considered ‘essential’ continue to operate out of necessity, but many businesses have closed to help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Some workers have lost their job; others are working from home (and are continuing to get paid). Then there are the impacts of the virus on the availability of goods and services; we all know that grocery stores have been hit hard as consumers have embraced a ‘buy more’ mentality. Some panicked buyers, unfortunately, have even resorted to hoarding.
This is a unique time for our country and for the world. It’s normal to be scared, anxious, and concerned about the future. Thankfully, Congress agreed to legislation that will provide financial aid to both families and businesses, so help is on the horizon. In the meantime, here are a few tips to manage your budget if finances are tight during the pandemic…and, hopefully, lessen the financial impact of the Coronavirus on your bottom line.
Shop with a List: Grocery Shopping During Corona
For the first time in our lives, we are facing empty shelves at grocery stores. What do you buy? Before the pandemic, you probably shopped with a list (at least, we hope you made that list). Writing out a list of what you need keeps you focused on only buying those essentials. Your list should include all your meal ingredients as well as necessities like paper goods, cleaning supplies, and any personal care items.
The issue right now is how to abide by the list if the items you need are not available. You should make a list because empty shelves sometimes cause us to panic. Then we buy things we don’t need, and this only adds to the problem and the scarcity of essentials. Shop smart and stick to the list but also be prepared to make swaps:
No rice? No problem!
If you need rice (and it’s gone), opt for another type of rice. Or try other whole grains like barley, orzo, or couscous. If those items are nowhere to be found, hunt down another starch like potatoes. You may find that sweet potatoes are the only option. Chicken, fish, and other staples (including veggies) all can be paired with potatoes and grains.
Where’s the Tuna…and Other Canned Goods?
Tuna is a cheap and easy protein for lunch and dinner. Lots of shoppers know this, and canned tuna has become a bit extinct. However, many people want name-brand tuna. So, scan those shelves for private-label cans (yes, they taste just as good…plus they’re cheaper!).
Canned chicken and beef are great substitutes, too. Or, if you prefer to eat fish, opt for canned salmon. While these swaps might not be your first option, they can take the place of tuna in your pantry.
A Picked Apart Meat Department
Seeing bare fresh meat sections can be very scary. There is a bit of panic deep in your stomach when you realize that your meat selection isn’t just limited but nearly wiped out. You may notice, though, that not all those cuts have been purchased. Less than favorable items like liver, chicken gizzards, round steaks, and ground chicken may be available. Frozen meats also may be plentiful, so take a deep breath and see what’s available.
Don’t discount any meat you find! This is a time when we can embrace new ways to cook and maybe even try out new tastes. You can get kids involved in the kitchen, too! If you have no idea what to do with liver, look up a few recipes. Ground chicken, pork or turkey can be baked in a pot pie (grab a few frozen crusts, some gravy and veggies…voila!).
About that Budget: Adjust as Needed
Everyone’s struggles are unique right now. Some workers are still working and receiving paychecks, but others may have been fired or furloughed. Your income could be the same or it could be much lower. How do you adjust if your income has been decreased? There are many expenses you can cut, including:
The Gas Budget
We’re not going out, so most of us aren’t spending money on ‘extras.’ What can you cut? You’re likely saving gas money right now, and this is a section on your budget that may allow you to make a decent cut (depending on how much you typically spend each month).
Monthly Subscription Services
How many streaming services are on your subscription list? If you need to live on less, cut out excessive subscriptions. Choose Netflix, YouTube TV, Cable, Hulu or Prime Video…but not all of them!
If you have a gym membership, canceling could free up your budget in the future! You should check with your gym on cancellation policies, though.
What About Buying Bulk? Does Buying Bulk Save Money?
Buying bulk for items you use often can be a great way to save money. However, there is a huge difference between buying in bulk and hoarding. Bulk items are sold in larger quantities and bigger packages; these larger quantities typically mean a lower per-item cost (although, this isn’t always the case). Bulk packages also can help you stock up, and having a two-week supply of food and essentials can help you and your family avoid needless trips to the store.
Buying bulk, however, does not mean buying 10 packages of toilet paper and paper towels. When you hoard, you leave less food and necessary items for everyone else. Hoarding also could seriously damage your budget. Buying out of fear could mean that you spend your entire food budget on paper goods. Some stores have established new rules for returning purchases in order to address hoarders; Costco, for example, now will no longer accept returns on paper towels, toilet paper, rice, hand sanitizer, and other items that are being purchased in excess by shoppers.
Can I Resell Toilet Paper, Hand Sanitizer, and Other Needed Items on eBay and Amazon?
If you’re looking to make more money during the crisis by selling basic necessities for a high price, you need to step back from eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon. There have been many sellers who listed toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other highly sought-after necessities at insanely high prices. ‘Price gouging’ refers to the practice of raising prices on needed items (or services) to unreasonable levels during a crisis, and many states have laws against price-gouging; the punishment can be a fine or even jail time. Amazon is cracking down on price gouging, too; the site suspended thousands of sellers!
Your finances could be taking a serious toll now, or you may simply be receiving the same income but working from home. If you need to free up some money in the budget, you can make cuts. However, our grocery options also may be severely limited, so we may find that we buy less. And buy more mindfully. Review your budget and your finances and make changes now; understand, though, that many families may find some financial hope in the coming months now that Congress has passed a stimulus package.