Obviously there are larger consequences of COVID-19 than just the financial and my heart goes out to the victims and families who have lost loved ones to the illness. We aren’t expecting to see my parents for at least 12 weeks (my dad has respiratory issues) and my anxiety for family and friends is just another thing weighing on me. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about everyone’s financial situations lately, not just our own. Small businesses that are closing for who knows how long, freelancers not entitled to sick pay, key workers who are expected to be at risk but get paid very little, workers who just can’t afford to stop working.
And then there are those privileged enough to work from home, but have to do it around homeschooling their children, and will have increased energy bills, extra mouths to feed every day, some whose nursery fees won’t be written off, whose rent will carry on regardless, people who already had to rely on food banks.
If I’m honest, it overwhelms me. Yes, we’re all staying in so will spend less but for us as a family our kitchen has now been severely limited so we can no longer batch cook affordable meals (that’s if you can get hold of the ‘affordable’ food at the shops anyway), which was the main way we saved money over here (we rarely go out anyway!). It will be a tough time for a lot of people, but I also don’t want anyone to feel too overwhelmed with doom and gloom, so thought this could potentially be a positive post on ways we could save small amounts (and often large) that could make a difference.
Without sounding all brand ambassador-y, this really is a time for frugalness to be the core of our mindset. The term ‘frugal’ has lots of different definitions and I am a big believer that it means something different to everyone but if we look at it making the most of your money (however much you have) and getting the most enjoyment out of everything in life, not just material things, I think it strikes a chord with what is going on at the moment.
Whilst we have had a serious conversation about money in our household and what we can cut back on, we have also really accepted our privilege – we are choosing not to stockpile and attempt to shop locally, to allow for the more vulnerable and marginalised to have access to affordable food. This is not saying that everyone should or needs to do this, we have taken a look at our finances to see where we can stretch, others might not be able to. By being mindful with our own money too, a lot of us can also help others.
Address your budget
Now is not the time to bury your head in the sand, sorry. As boring as it is, now is the time to address your income and outgoings and see anywhere you can cut back. I can recommend Active Budgeter’s spreadsheets but if you’re clever enough to do this yourself with a spreadsheet or just a plain old piece of paper, then I salute you.
Try batch cooking
I know it’s hard to find those elusive chopped tomatoes in stores right now but if you have the skills and ability to make big batches of soups, stews etc – do it! We found that frozen food has been depleting in supermarkets but fresh food was in abundance, so try and cook with those and freeze meals instead. And without meat, even better/cheaper! Lots of chefs on social media have been sharing wonderful recipes, like Melissa Hemsley’s lentil and bean chilli – especially ones you can make in bulk and drop to neighbours. Also, although it seems daunting right now, know it will be temporary – we had eggs on toast last night for dinner as it was all we had and I’m not going to be made to feel guilty for not cooking the most incredible 3-course banquet for my family.
Cancel unnecessary direct debits
I wrote about this here in detail, and although it feels like a small, negligible amount, I’d say at this stage – every amount matters. We cancelled a few work direct debits (and in most cases you can pause them and revisit very easily online). Maybe now is the time to ring around for a better deal on energy? And don’t feel guilty about keeping some you consider necessary – Netflix isn’t going anywhere for us!
Find out if the mortgage holiday allowance might work for you
If you are a home-owner, and worried about keeping up with your repayments, a mortgage payment holiday has been announced by most mortgage lenders (not all). At the moment it is for 3 months (but this varies as well). The bank will not pay your mortgage, but you will not pay for three months, you will still pay interest on the missed payments, but it will be added to your next payments when you start paying again. We applied for this (and you can read the whole post here).
Cut down on unnecessary shopping
I know it’s hard as social media is our lifeline currently and everyone is just moving their coping mechanism onto online shopping but if this is to last, we need to channel our money elsewhere. If you do have some spare money and maybe have a birthday present to buy – consider independent stores who are still trading online (a lot galleries, which are currently closed are also still selling via their online gift shops – such as the Royal Academy, whose kids gifts are great). That way, you get that thrill of buying (which I totally get!) but also the feeling that you’ve helped out a small brand. It’s also worth reading this, how the coronavirus is speeding up Amazon’s monopoly on the online market.
Take advantage of free resources
Luckily, the internet is full of free resources (yep, you’re reading one right now!) but it’s worth keeping an eye out on extra generous free content. For instance, Audible are offering free children’s books, and if you’re a member of you local library then Borrow Box or Libby (which I think is London based) apps offer free e-books and audio books, Joe Wicks is offering free kids PE classes via YouTube every Monday and Barrys are offering free live workouts from home (maybe you can pause that gym membership, after all?).
If you find a spring clean of your wardrobe is something you have time for in social isolation, go for it! We sold a few bits on eBay last week (I had some And Other Stories pieces that no longer fit and they always go down well on eBay) and there is still a huge appetite for it. You may still need to claim this earnings in a tax return, but are entitled to an individual trading allowance of £1000 before you have to pay tax on this type of income.
Find out what benefits you might be entitled to
If you’re unable to work you might be eligible for universal credit, you might be able to claim from your insurance (via payment protection), your small business might be able to claim back business rates. A recent announcement has stated that freelancers will have access to statutory sick pay (read more here) and can defer tax payments. Research into every avenue, and there are resources out there willing to offer advice in the current climate, and Citizens Advice offer support with applying and information. I personally find Vestpod’s newsletter useful for new government legislation and bank updates. If you are pregnant or a new mum and concerned how COVID-19 affects you, Pregnant Then Screwed offers a lot of useful advice.
Lastly, I wanted to thank My Frugal Year for putting a post up about not letting yourself feel shame about not having savings or not being prepared for this. No one was, it’s something outside of our control and you need to look after your mental health, too. In an ideal world we’d all have tons of ‘rainy day’ funds and ‘spare’ money sitting around but that’s not the reality for most of us – it’s important not to beat yourself up about the what ifs and concentrate on small things you can be in control of. If you are in debt and worried about repayments, the National Debt helpline details are here.