Millions of Americans have been affected to some degree by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the most pressing concern might be the health effects of the coronavirus, many workers are equally worried about the effect the pandemic has had on their finances.
In fact, while around 63% of Americans are worried about getting sick from the virus, according to a survey from FinanceBuzz, 68% of people are worried about how they're going to pay their bills, and nearly 80% are concerned about facing unexpected costs during this tough financial time.
If you've lost your job or have been forced to take some unpaid time off, money might be tight right now. But you can do a few things to improve your situation.
1. Comb through your budget and cut all nonessential costs
When you suddenly have little to no income, one of the best ways to save money is to cut costs. Before you can do that, though, you'll need to determine where, exactly, all your money is going.
Start by mapping out all your current expenses then dividing them into different categories. From there, you can eliminate any costs that aren't essential right now. You may find you're already spending less than you were a month or two ago, since you're probably not dining out at restaurants, going to the movies, or planning any expensive trips anytime soon. But you might also discover you're still spending money on nonessential costs like a gym membership or subscription services you don't use, and cutting those can help you save some cash.
Once you've cut all unnecessary costs, do your best to keep your expenses down. For example, if you're stocking up on groceries right now, be strategic about how you spend. Take advantage of coupons and discounts, and focus on buying nonperishables that you won't need to throw out in a few days or a week if you don't eat them.
2. Look into hardship programs if you're having trouble paying your bills
If you've reduced your costs as much as possible and you're still having trouble paying your bills, don't be afraid to ask for help. Many organizations are offering assistance to those who are experiencing economic hardship right now, so it never hurts to talk to creditors to see if there are any hardship programs you can take advantage of to ease your financial burden.
Also, be sure you know your rights. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it will be suspending all evictions and foreclosures for the next 60 days, but it's still a good idea to talk to your landlord or lender if you're having trouble paying your rent or mortgage. You might not lose your home if you're unable to pay right now, but working with creditors can help you establish a payment plan.
Similarly, if you're struggling to pay your credit card bills, utilities, or loan repayments, reach out to these creditors to see if they can help. Not all organizations are offering financial relief, but many are willing to work with their customers -- and you never know what's available until you ask.
3. Strengthen your emergency fund the best you can
It's uncertain when Americans will be able to go back to business as usual, and there's a chance the economy could slip into a recession. So it's a good idea to build a solid emergency fund to last you through the next few weeks or months. The question, then, is how do you establish an emergency fund when we're already in the middle of an emergency?
Start by cutting back your expenses as much as possible, then make sure you've paid your bills. If you have any cash left over, park it in a high-yield savings account. These accounts earn much higher interest rates than typical bank savings accounts, so your money will grow faster.
Another potential option is to pick up a side gig you can do from home. Maybe you can start tutoring online, for example, or try your hand at freelance writing or editing. You might even be able to make a few extra bucks taking online surveys or reviewing apps or websites. Some of these gigs might not pay much, but every dollar counts.
These are uncertain times, and millions of Americans have had their lives disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. While it can be difficult to keep a clear head in this situation, it's important to stay calm and be strategic about managing your finances. By taking a few steps to keep your costs in check and save more, you can make sure you're as prepared as possible to tackle any obstacle life throws your way.