5 Money-Saving Habits I’ve Adopted During COVID-19 That Are Definitely Worth Keeping

published Oct 14, 2020
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As a freelance writer, with about half of my income coming from travel writing, I had some major economic anxiety at the start of COVID. Travel was on pause—and so were many of my assignments.

Like me, nearly nine out of 10 people say COVID-19 has caused them to stress about their financial situation, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. Specifically, not having enough in emergency savings, shaky job security, and income fluctuations are top concerns.  

Now, amid an economic downturn, many of the financial lessons that people are learning this year have to do with re-learning personal finance rules that they’ve always known to be true, says Brittney Castro, a certified financial planner with Mint and Turbo.

“This includes the importance of having and building an adequate rainy day fund (read: emergency fund), reviewing and reducing spending as much as possible, and investing in yourself.”

So early on, I revisited my budget, which, much like 2020 in general, is stacked with wildcards. To address the revenue side of my budget, I had to “pivot” (Site note: Merriam-Webster, I think this is a strong contender for the Word of the Year) and diversify my client base even more. I also needed to take an honest look at my expenses.  

Here are five budget habits I adopted during COVID-19 that I’m seeking a long-term relationship with, even in a post-pandemic era.

I redefined my emergency savings

COVID made me aware that I may have been loosey-goosey with the term “emergency.” Global pandemic = emergency. Still, I had been in the habit of dipping into my emergency savings fund on an almost monthly basis. My oven had a gas leak. My dog had an emergency vet visit. My tax bill was higher than expected. I got a speeding ticket. The problem, I realized, was that life’s—let’s call them hiccups—weren’t factored into the expense side of my monthly budget.

On the plus side, I wasn’t leaning on my credit card to pay for these micro-emergencies. But my budget wasn’t accounting for them, either. So I added in a line for “unexpected expenses,” and when I don’t have anything go awry, the money gets kicked into my emergency fund as “extra.” To free up money in my budget for this new line item, I had to trim down on dining and entertainment spending—which, let’s be honest—was easy to do during COVID because of all the closures. I plan to keep the park picnics, at-home cocktail nights, and hikes I’ve enjoyed so much over the past few months a part of my new norm.

How much money should be stashed away in your emergency savings fund? Financial planners suggest having three to six months of your living expenses fully covered, says Steve Sexton, financial consultant and CEO of Sexton Advisory Group.

“To do this quickly, you’ll likely need to cut back on your current expenses,” he says. “This could include eliminating your cable bill in favor of streaming services, cutting back on those Postmates orders, shopping around for lower insurance and mortgage rates, cooking at home, and buying less pre-packaged foods.” 

These types of cutbacks might seem small, he says, but they add up and will help you build momentum overtime.

I’m refinancing… my car

Mortgages aren’t the only thing that can be refinanced. I’m taking advantage of low interest rates and in the process of refinancing my auto loan. I was able to score a better interest rate with my credit union, and it’s looking like I’ll be saving in the neighborhood of $40 to $50 a month on my car payment

If your credit score recently went up, bumping you into the next bracket (say from good to excellent), you might also want to look at refinancing your auto loan to get a better rate. NerdWallet has a calculator you can use to plug in your loan amount, loan terms, interest rate and possible refinanced interest rate to show how much you’ll be saving. According to Credit Karma, lenders are more likely to consider refinancing you if your car is relatively new and has some equity in it. 

I audited my bills

I recently found out that my Internet provider had been charging me for a rental router that I never actually rented from them. I hadn’t noticed this $4.99 monthly charge for two years, but was able to get a credit to my account. In this bill auditing process, I also found out that there was a class action lawsuit settlement involving my Internet provider and I was eligible for $30. (Here’s where you can find out if you’re eligible for any class-action settlements.) The other discovery I made after I spent time going over my bills? I was paying for a Hulu account when it was already free through my cell phone provider.

My neighbors and I volunteered to keep HOA bills down

Here’s something that might be worth proposing to your HOA: Are there any services we could save on if we volunteered to do them ourselves? This works particularly well with smaller HOAs. There are 12 row homes that make up my HOA and each homeowner saves about $80 a month now that we don’t pay for snow removal service or landscaping on our shared walkways. Instead, we take turns mowing the boulevard and shoveling walkways (which, yes, means occasionally getting up at 6 a.m. to clear the snow after a big storm).

Credit: Brittany Anas

But I also splurged on bedding

My budget readjustment hasn’t been all about cuts and savings. At the start of COVID, I was having more trouble than ever falling—and staying—asleep. I decided to invest in a new mattress (it was something I had been putting off!), comfortable bedding, lavender pillow spray, and a sound machine to make over my room into a more peaceful retreat with calming shades of blue. According to a survey from Mint, home improvement and furnishing spending spiked 133 percent between January and June of this year, which makes a lot of sense to me. Sheltering-in-place at home gave me a new appreciation of my living space, and I wanted to create a relaxing environment—one where I could escape the stress. Here are some budget-friendly bedroom upgrades to help turn your room into a sanctuary.

What budget habits have you adopted during COVID-19 that you plan to maintain going forward? Drop them in the comments below.