The ongoing pandemic has pushed Americans to take a long look at their finances. Many are facing unemployment or reduced income, and those who remain fully employed are being more careful about how they save and spend their money. To keep better track of their money, some people are budgeting for the first time ever — a habit that will hopefully last long after the pandemic subsides. But is following a budget enough? If you’re basing your budget on pre-pandemic life, there’s probably room to make additional cuts. Let’s take a look at how to get down to a bare bones budget.
We all need to eat, but how much of your budget goes to food can vary widely. When trying to get down to a bare bones budget, take an honest look at how much you’re spending on food every month. If you’re still picking up take-out a few times a week or doing socially distanced restaurant meals, those have to go. Preparing your own food at home is always going to be cheaper than having someone else prepare it for you.
When grocery shopping, plan your meals, shop with a list, and focus on the basics. Pasta and rice are cheap, filling and the perfect base for hearty sauces and stir fries. Go meatless a few times a week to save even more. And don’t overlook simple meals like sandwiches, quesadillas, or breakfast-for-dinner. Remember, you’re trying cut your budget and fill your belly, not win Top Chef.
As most of the country experiences a seemingly endless heatwave, it may seem impossible to cut your utility costs (A/C is a must!), but we have some ideas. Remember how your parents used to tell you to turn off the lights when you leave the room? That rule still applies, along with turning off the TV and other appliances that aren’t in use. Be sure to unplug all chargers for mobile devices, too. They can draw a surprising amount of power just by being plugged in.
Limit your use of major appliances, such as the washing machine and dishwasher, to non-peak hours of the day. And rather than running the dryer at all, why not hang clothes outside to dry instead? You can also cut your water bill by taking shorter, cooler showers and not overwatering lawns and gardens.
Ordinarily, getting down to a bare bones budget would involve cutting out all types of entertainment spending. Although the pandemic has done some of the work for us — no sports, concerts, theater, or movie tickets to buy — being home so much means you need some welcome distractions, so we’re not going to tell you to cancel all your streaming services. But you do need to spend strategically on entertainment. If you haven’t already, cut the cord. You’re paying for lots of cable channels you never watch, and you can find the things you do watch regularly online — everything is streaming somewhere.
When it comes to streaming services, subscribe to one at a time. Get the family’s consensus on what everyone wants to watch; when you exhaust the available choices on one service, cancel and switch to another. Don’t forget to take advantage of free trials, too. Just remember to cancel before you’re charged if you decide not to keep it.
Credit Card Debt
When you’re trying to stretch every dollar, paying down debt can be challenging, but not impossible. Although we always advocate paying more than the minimum credit card payments every month, it’s OK to make minimum payments temporarily to work within a bare bones budget. But don’t make it a long-term habit. Once circumstances and your personal situation improve, you’ll want to go back to paying more than the minimum every month. And remember to use any extra money, like cash gifts, bonuses, or overtime pay, to help make a dent in that debt.
If you’d like help figuring out a budget and finding a long-term solution to credit card debt, our online financial review is a great place to start. It’s fast, free and confidential.