Tightening belt during pandemic doesn’t have to be painful

Perhaps you, like me, are in a household where the monies coming in have been reduced or cut off completely by COVID-19. Or perhaps you know someone in this position. If you’re facing a tighter belt, here are a few things I’ve done this week to save money.

Before we get started, this is a great time to get a handle of what your expenses are. I made a quick spreadsheet of my main items, sorted from the highest expense to the lowest recurring expense. By recurring, I mean things like mortgage/rent, groceries, car payments, cellphone, power, water, internet and cable, insurance, water heater rental, and newspaper, that are monthly and in a relatively set amount. Then I tried to estimate the other typical items and discretionary spending: gas, clothing, drugstore, home improvement, alcohol, haircuts, gifts, donations, restaurants and entertainment.

Then I began making telephone calls to see what I could do about the recurring expenses.

First off, almost every credit card company, financial institution, well almost everybody, has payment deferral plans in place to push off payments. I don’t want to get behind, so instead I was looking to see what I could trim.

I started with insurance. With one call to my car insurance company I was signed up to receive a cheque for 15 percent of my premium for three months, and had changed my driving to ‘essential’ which lowered my premiums going forward. I’ve heard of companies automatically sending out these cheques, up to 25 per cent, but I had to call and ask for mine.

Next, I called my internet and cable company and told them that I needed to lower my bills. I didn’t cut any services, but by the end of the call, I had reduced my costs by close to 20 per cent. If I’d had extra channels or services to cut, I would have started there, but I was already down to minimum service levels.

Because I’ve been in a belt-tightening situation before, I had already bought my water heater, which saves me over $300 per year in the rental costs.

Onto more discretionary expenses, my gas expenses have been halved or quartered because I have almost no where to drive. Clothing costs are down with no where to shop. Hairdressers are closed, so that expense is gone. I’ve also avoided buying alcohol. Grocery expenses, though, are up, and I’ll have to rein that in.

Cutting my restaurant and entertainment expenses has been easier too. I am still supporting local restaurants by eating in with take-out, but obviously I have not been to the movies nor clubs. Now that concerts in person are not happening, I have watched a few online concerts, and made contributions to musicians and their causes, but it has reduced my spending.

As I believe in supporting local, one expense that I won’t cut is my newspaper subscription. It is a small expense, and important to me that we keep our local news source. Of course, this sounds biased coming from someone who writes for the paper, but we need balanced media, especially not based out of a different city.

A coin has two sides, so as for money coming in, I’ll be looking into the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and any other programs available.

Sometimes challenges are opportunities in disguise. Through some careful planning, getting a handle on my expenses, and trimming outlays through a few phone calls, I can always weather the storm, if not prepare for the next rainy day.

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