With COVID-19 forcing many of us to stay at home and practice physical distancing, we may be facing a financial squeeze even as we may be spending less. For some of us the situation may be temporary, but we might wonder if this could be a harbinger of something more long-term.

“As companies try to minimize the bleeding from less revenue, many people might find themselves without work,” says Stephen Inskip, Head of TD Wealth Financial Planning. “And for those who own businesses, and those who are self-employed, there may be less work to go around.”

If that’s the case, you may find yourself cash-strapped during this time and looking for ways to make ends meet. And even if you are financially secure right now, identifying non-essential spending you could live without may give you confidence during these unprecedented times. With that in mind, here are eight places where you may be able to tighten your belt in tough times.

  1. Be a cord cutter
    Many Canadians have already cut their cable subscriptions and now rely on streaming services to entertain them. Some may even be free, including content that museums and libraries are making available online. But beware: As the number of premium streaming services available rise, so have their prices. It can be easy to swap one $80 monthly cable bill for several $15 streaming fees. With no cancellation or installation fees, it could be wise to choose one streaming service at a time. Once you have binge-watched the best of one service, move onto another for fresh content.
  2. Cook at home
    Canadian households spend an average of $2,593 per year on eating out1. And if you ever wanted to get experimental with your meals, now is the time to find new recipes and check out cooking videos. Ordering fresh groceries online and stocking up on staples may help you save money while reducing the need to travel during periods of self-isolation.
  3. Coupons
    Modern day couponing doesn’t have to be time-consuming, nor does it need to include any clipping and organizing. Many apps can automatically build your grocery list and show you what’s on sale. Stock up on non-perishables when they are good buys and consider switching brands if a different one is on sale. Some avid couponers claim they can save thousands of dollars a year with little effort.
  4. Sell stuff you don’t need
    Now can be a handy time to go through the house and find things that you can re-home. There is an online marketplace for almost everything now, making it easy to snap a picture, set a price and wait for a buyer. Selling just a few items a month could mean a few hundred dollars injected into your budget. Use your banking app to e-transfer funds rather than exchange cash by hand and remember physical distancing practices when meeting others.
  5. Consolidate your debt
    Debt consolidation rolls multiple debts into a single payment. You may be able to move high-interest debts, such as any outstanding credit card balance, into a single, lower-interest payment using a secured line of credit like a home equity loan. “Consolidating debt may reduce your total debt carrying cost,” says Inskip. “It may also simplify your finances and you may be able to pay it off faster.”
  6. Call your insurer
    If it’s been a while since you have checked your insurance bill, it may be time to pick up the phone. Even if you are happy with your provider, there are many factors that go into the price of your insurance: Ask whether your car’s depreciation, your good driving record, or even a change in your address or marital status affects your rate. “Also consider going with a higher deductible,” says Inskip. “A higher deductible may mean a lower monthly payment, and that could help with cashflow.”
  7. Lower your mobile phone bill
    Calling and texting is relatively inexpensive but large amounts of data can be costly. “Watch your data usage,” says Inskip. “Paying for roaming or big plans that you won’t use can be costly mistakes.” Choose your plan wisely and consider using mostly wi-fi — particularly if you’re now spending more time at home. A smaller plan could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
  8. Consider ditching the car
    Cars are convenient but can be expensive to run and maintain. On average the cost of owning and operating a compact, gas-powered car annually is over $8,5002. “If you must own a car, consider carpooling,” says Inskip, “or if you just need a car periodically consider car sharing or renting.”

Even when you aren’t practicing physical distancing or facing the prospect of a downturn, being cash conscious can provide a bit of cushion that can be put towards retirement or into an emergency fund.

“When it comes to spending wisely, it helps to track so you know where your money is going,” says Inskip. “By tracking, you can see where you can cut back and also ask yourself what is necessary and what is not.”

DENISE O'CONNELL

MONEYTALK LIFE

ILLUSTRATION

DANESH MOHIUDDIN

  1. Statistics Canada.  Table  11-10-0125-01   Detailed food spending, Canada, regions and provinces
  2. CAA. Canadians unclear about the true costs of owning a car. May 24, 2018. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/canadians-unclear-about-true-cost-of-owning-a-vehicle-683576111.html  Accessed March 30, 2020