Losing Income to the Pandemic Showed Me 2 Ways to Reduce My Expenses
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- I lost about $500 in income per month due to the pandemic and had to adjust my expenses accordingly.
- My two biggest expense cuts were my grocery bill and my personal expenses. Using a grocery delivery service saved me a substantial amount on impulse purchases.
- I always allow myself to send gifts to other people and make donations, but I don’t buy for myself.
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Like many people, my income has been reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, in my case around $500 per month. I am a freelancer and also earn quarterly book royalties. So I’m used to my income fluctuating from month to month and year to year. However, after once having to move to a new house due to a drop in income, when I found out that some of my writing gigs were being reduced or canceled, I decided to be proactive and change my spending habits.
I am also in the process of repay a large debt. My original plan was just not to spend even a dime on anything non-essential i.e. only spend money on food, rent, utilities and supplies Office.
For the most part, that’s what I did. But as the pandemic has continued, it has proven a bit difficult to stick to this totally strict approach to budgeting. I’m not perfect, but most months I was able to cut my expenses by the same $500 I lost in income, sometimes more.
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The main changes I’ve made to my spending habits
Reduce the grocery bill
I realized early on that even though my rent and utility prices were out of my control, I could save a lot on the cost of food. In pre-pandemic times, my boyfriend and I go to Costco about every six weeks and spend between $200 and $300 on all kinds of bulk foods, from cereal to veggie burgers and frozen burritos.
In some cases, we really saved by shopping there, but negated much of that profitability by picking up items on a whim that sounded great (like a bag of ridiculously sized chocolate covered pretzels ). As we haven’t been there since February, it’s like a godsend in our pockets.
We’ve done the same at the grocery store, albeit to a lesser extent, but still, a few impulse buys can net up to $30 here, $50 there – every week. Since we started using a shopping service in March to shop for us, even with the costs associated with the service, we’ve still been on top because we only pay for the items on our list.
I also did my best to reduce my food expenses without eating the same meal three times a day. Small changes, like ditching brie in favor of the cheapest cheddar, and bigger ones, like quitting drinking decaffeinated coffee in favor of the 20 boxes of tea I had somehow accumulated, also helped me save money.
Reduce my personal expenses
Giving up things like my bimonthly haircut and color ($125) and biweekly manicures and pedicures ($80) was relatively easy. After all, these services have been shut down for most of the past few months.
It was also easy to forego other personal purchases, like new books, because I was able to check out a lot of them at the library and have a ton at home that were just sitting on my shelves.
I also used to go to New York about once a month to visit friends; not doing so helped me save at least $100 per trip.
Every time I’ve been tempted to buy something for myself, I’ve been reminded of two things: 1) I’m still in debt, so every dollar I spend is that dollar plus the interest I have to pay for my debt , and 2) I was lucky enough to still have an income when so many people are unemployed. Even though my income is lower than I would prefer, I know it could still go down, and it helps me control my urge to indulge myself.
I always allow myself to give gifts
The only “indulgence” I have allowed myself is buying and sending gifts for other people and making charitable donations. Even if it doesn’t help me repay debtsit makes me feel like I’m making someone else’s life happier or better.
I promised my dad I wouldn’t buy him any presents until I was in debt, but this year for his birthday I bought him two pounds of coffee from a company I know he appreciate. In the past I’ve bought him many times that amount so it was a concession to my financial reality but also a way to mark a special day for someone I love and don’t know when I will see again in no one.
When I heard that the young daughter of one of my oldest friends was interested in science, I sent her some books from a series of children’s graphic novels about an amoeba. For $22, making her smile and helping her develop her love of reading made me happy, which was totally worth it.
I spent money sending puzzles to friends all over the country because the library where I would normally give them away is no longer accepting donations. Puzzles have brought me so much joy and contentment during this time at home that I’m excited to pass that on to other puzzle fans.
I have also donated small amounts to a few nonprofits and fundraisers for causes I believe in. I realize that it may seem strange to have canceled my therapy sessions and continue to spend this way, but I actually consider my mental health and my charitable donations to be linked. . Giving even a small amount has reminded me that I can help in service, even when I don’t leave my house. It lifted my spirits, especially on days when I feel like I’m doing nothing.
Giving up shopping was hard, but worth it
The hardest thing for me about trying to save during the pandemic has been sorting out my desire to reward myself for my hard work by shopping. There are times when, especially after turning in a big project or facing a Friday night after a hectic week at work, I selfishly feel like I should be able to treat myself to some treat. But the longer I stayed at home, the less I wanted to buy physical objects. What I fantasize about spending money on are things like massages and travel, which I don’t feel safe until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.
I also considered possibly moving to a cheaper house to save money, which made the prospect of acquiring more property less attractive. So when I have the impulse to shop, I do the next best thing – I browse. I’ve made a list of a few things I want to buy at some point – a pair of earrings, a nice desk lamp – when my income is more secure, my debt is paid off, I’ll have saved six months of expense, and I feel that these are really worthwhile purchases that I won’t regret as soon as they come into my house.
It helps me remember that hopefully my income will return to previous levels and motivates me when I feel like slacking off. I’ve found that just adding them to my list helps satisfy my desire to shop; once they’ve been added, they don’t come to mind.
Besides saving money, another benefit is that I also saved a lot of time by shopping less. I don’t scour countless websites trying to find the best price or discount code, or looking for flight or hotel deals. When browsing, I usually know exactly what I’m looking for and limit myself to an hour or so, not an entire evening. It’s given me more time to enjoy the things I have in front of me – like my overflowing bookshelves, puzzles, upgrading to Mario Kart, or watching TV game networks on our new negotiated cable plan.
I’m not happy about earning less these days, but I’m glad I found ways to cut my expenses without feeling deprived. It’s a skill that will always be valuable, no matter what my income.