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Budgeting During a Pandemic

Budgeting During a Pandemic

Feb 2021

Sticking to a budget is hard enough normally — and things are anything but normal right now. Unfortunately, this is one more area of our lives that’s a lot more complicated since the pandemic began. Just as many folks are rethinking how they work and grocery shop, it’s a good idea to look at your household budget and consider whether some adjustments are in order.

 

Budgeting is about planning ahead. But before you do that, review changes in your spending habits since the COVID-19 crisis began. While it may feel like you’re saving money by eating out less or staying home, there may be other areas where you are, in fact, spending more than you did before the pandemic. These might include groceries, utilities and even household repairs, as appliances and other systems in your home deal with increased demand.

 

Once you have a good sense of the increases and decreases in your spending, adjust your budget accordingly. Then, consider the following:

 

1. Bolster your emergency fund. Whether or not you’ve had to tap your emergency fund, consider adding to your safety cushion. With the future still uncertain, see if you can squirrel away an extra $50 a month to put toward repairs or other unexpected expenses. Adding to your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) can also help cover any unanticipated medical costs.

 

2. Review discretionary spending. Some budget items are necessary expenses, such as food, housing and utilities, while others are optional. Review your discretionary spending, such as multiple streaming services and nonessential clothing. Consider cutting back on these temporarily to liberate additional money for building your emergency fund or paying down debt.

 

3. Seek out savings on essential spending. Curb grocery bills by using paper or online coupons. Buy in bulk and look for lower-cost meal options that include pasta, beans and in-season vegetables. Cut back or eliminate alcohol purchases. Getting creative with leftovers can also help. Look for new budget-friendly recipes to add to your meal-planning repertoire. Many auto insurance carriers are offering discounted rates as well, so check to see if yours is one of them. You can lower monthly insurance payments by increasing your deductible, but only consider this strategy if you can afford the higher out-of-pocket expense.

 

4. Negotiate with creditors and service providers. If your budget is straining, speak to your lenders to see if they can lower your monthly payment or interest rate. They may even allow a forbearance of payments altogether. If you have a mortgage, investigate whether refinancing that loan makes sense for you. Call credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate or consider a balance transfer to a card with a more favorable fee structure.

 

5. Review your retirement plan. Try to avoid dipping into your 401(k) as this could potentially set you back years on your retirement timeline — as can lowering or stopping contributions. It’s particularly important to contribute the minimum required to receive any company-match funds if possible.

 

Many American families are feeling the crunch right now. You’re not alone. Seek out guidance from those who can help. Setting an appointment with your financial advisor is a great place to start during this challenging time. If you’re under a great deal of financial stress, talk to supportive friends and family. And, if necessary, obtain professional help from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a qualified counselor through your health insurance plan.

 

Avoid These 8 Budget Blunders

Avoid These 8 Budget Blunders

Feb 2021

Creating and maintaining a household budget is a powerful tool for achieving financial goals. But these eight budgetary blunders could tank your best efforts to stay on track.

 

1. Omitting occasional expenses. You (hopefully) don’t have to repair your car on a monthly basis, but it’s unrealistic to pretend it’ll never happen. And just because you don’t know when the next breakdown will be, that doesn’t mean you should leave an occasional bill from your mechanic out of your budget. For unpredictable expenses like these, look back at the cost of prior repairs for an average figure to factor into your budget. As your car gets older, you may want to adjust that estimate up a bit as you’ll have a greater chance of more extensive repairs with a “mature” vehicle.

 

2. Forgetting about small purchases. That daily cup of joe at the train station may not cost you much, but little things can add up when they’re repeat offenders. Capture small expenses like these in your monthly budget. Include things like tips on services and your Sunday morning bagel run.

 

3. Ignoring large purchases. How do you budget for a big two-week summer vacation? It’s important to have a plan if you don’t want to end up with a gigantic credit card bill as a final souvenir of your beach getaway. Tackle large expenses like these by dividing the total cost by 12 and including that amount in a monthly savings budget. That way, by the time you pack your bathing suit and sunscreen, your fun-times fund will be able to cover your costs.

 

4. Relying on memory. When you review your spending at the end of the month, it’s easy to forget a purchase here and there. This is why it can be helpful to look back at electronic banking records to account for every dollar spent. After all, if you don’t accurately align your spending with your budget, what’s the point of making one to begin with?

 

5. Leaving no wiggle room. Always reserve a little cushion in your budget just in case. It’s pretty hard to anticipate every expense that might come up during the month, so don’t budget down to the penny – allow some wiggle room in case you’re overly optimistic in your projections.

 

6. Not paying yourself first. Don’t let planning for your future become an afterthought. Make it a top priority each and every month. Participating in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan is a great way to make retirement saving automatic. And when by making regular contributions, you’ll dollar cost average into the market, which means you’ll accrue more shares when prices are lower. And everyone likes a bargain, right?

 

7. Being too hard on yourself. Sticking to a budget takes practice and discipline. You might not hit your target each and every month, but it’s important not to beat yourself up if that happens. Try to understand what occurred, make adjustments based on what you learn and get right back on track. You don’t need to budget perfectly to make a positive impact on your financial future.

 

8. Going it alone. Your employer-provided financial advisor is a fantastic resource. Budgeting can be complicated, and your advisor can help you sort through the details. Make an appointment to review your budget or get help setting one up for the first time.

 

Making — and maintaining — a budget is one of the best things you can do to stay on track for your retirement and other financial goals.


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