You know that rainy day you were saving for? Well, it's finally here. If you're one of millions of American workers whose paycheck has been slashed thanks to coronavirus, it's time to learn a new, leaner lifestyle -- and fast.
According to the March ADP National Employment report, private companies cut 27,000 jobs from February through March 12 of this year. But that's only a tiny hint of what coronavirus containment strategies could do to employment in the U.S. Unfortunately, the biggest shutdowns across the country occurred after the end date of that ADP report. California, for example, issued its stay-at-home order on March 19. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ordered residents to stay home as of March 21, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo followed suit the next day. Other states, like Florida and Pennsylvania, didn't mandate stay-at-home orders until April 1.
The only bright spot is that you're not the only one who's tasked with living off your emergency fund indefinitely. Here are six steps you can take now to make that cash last as long as possible.
1. Contact your creditors
To start, reach out to all of your creditors and explain your situation. Your goal is to negotiate reduced or deferred monthly repayments -- and that might be easier than you think.
American Express (AXP), Apple (AAPL 0.03%), Capital One (COF), and others have already announced relief programs for credit card holders affected by coronavirus. As well, the government's $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package offers assistance on federally backed student debt and federally backed mortgages. Interest on federal student loans will be automatically waived until September 30, and you have the option to skip repayments until that same date. The mortgage help is not automatic, however. You have to call your loan servicer and ask for a 90-day pause on your payments, which you can do up to four times.
2. Cancel all non-essential subscriptions
Be proactive about cancelling your nonessential services. Pull up all of your bank statements for the last 90 days and review the transactions, one by one. You're looking for recurring charges that get auto-billed to your account. Cable, streaming services, gym memberships, dating website memberships, App Store or Google Play subscriptions, and gaming plans are all on the chopping block. Even your internet can go if you can use your smartphone's cellular data to look for new income opportunities.
3. Make a healthcare plan
If you've lost your job entirely, you'll need to secure healthcare insurance. You have two options: Extend your work coverage through COBRA, or buy insurance from the Marketplace at healthcare.gov. COBRA is notoriously expensive -- much more than the healthcare premiums being deducted from your paycheck when you were employed. Within 45 days of losing your job, you'll receive a notice from your employer that outlines the cost of continuing on with the workplace health plan. You then have 60 days to accept the coverage. If you do, your coverage is retroactive to the day you lost your job.
Since your budget is tight, you'll likely prefer a cheaper Marketplace plan. Open Enrollment for 2020 has ended, but losing your job qualifies you for special enrollment. That enrollment period only lasts 60 days from the date you left your employer, so don't delay in pricing your options.
4. Eat simply
You'll have to set aside champagne tastes for now. The trick is to choose foods that are both cheap and somewhat nutritious, so you can stay as healthy as possible. Head to the bulk aisle in your grocery store and pick up dried beans, lentils, and rolled oats. Beans and lentils, both loaded with fiber and protein, are often used as stand-ins for meat in vegetarian diets. Oats are high in fiber and antioxidants. All three have a long shelf life.
Ramen noodles, brown rice, and whole grain pastas are also good choices, especially when combined with frozen vegetables for added nutrition.
In the produce aisle, reach for sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, carrots, green cabbage, and apples.
For a treat, try popcorn. Don't buy the microwavable bags with added flavors, though. Instead, reach for loose kernels sold in a single bag. Put a half-cup of kernels in a brown lunch bag and toss it in the microwave. In three minutes, you'll have a fresh, air-popped snack.
5. Reset your thermostat
Plan on wearing layers inside when it's cold and shorts inside when it's hot. According to Energy Saver, a U.S. Department of Energy website, a 10-degree adjustment to your thermostat for eight hours daily can reduce your utility bills by 10%.
6. Lean on free entertainment
If you're subject to a stay-at-home order, you'll naturally gravitate toward cheaper forms of entertainment. No one's going to the movie theater these days. Take an inventory of books, puzzles, and board games in your home that you can reread, resolve, and replay. Try sketching out new furniture arrangements for each room in your house. Practice drawing. Write letters to relatives. Find enjoyment in cleaning closets, garages, and basements. Tag and photograph stuff you can sell once the world returns to normal. Get creative enough and you'll find loads of free activities in your house.
Get back to basics
Being stuck at home with no paycheck is not the rainy day anyone wants. But you can get through this. Ask for help when you can, and cut your spending down to the very basics. And who knows -- when this crisis ends and you are back to work, you may realize you enjoyed the simple lifestyle just a little bit.