Here’s how you can access expanded financial resources and practice tried-and-true budgeting methods to help you and your family weather the storm.
1. Review your budget + cut what you don’t need.
With the stress of a global pandemic and social distancing—not to mention the financial worries that come with both—budgeting can feel overwhelming. But making a plan now can actually help you feel a sense of control. This crisis will not last forever, but the money choices you make now may have a long-term impact on your financial health.
Start by determining the minimum monthly amount you need to cover your bills and lifestyle spending during the next few months. Make a list of every monthly expense you pay, including fixed bills like your rent and phone bill, and variable expenses like groceries and household items.
Cut or pause payments on any non-essentials—for example, many gyms are offering the option to pause memberships, since social distancing practices prevent people from going. Other service providers like your cell phone company, credit card company, car insurance agent and internet provider may have options that will reduce your bills, or smaller packages that match your needs at a lower cost. One Motherly editor cut her monthly car insurance bills by $70 per month just by calling her car insurance company and changing her average mileage since she’s driving so much less.
2. Make a plan.
Once you know your minimum monthly spend, you can make a plan. Compare what you need against any regular monthly income, as well as other income you can receive from things like unemployment, the stimulus credit, and your 2019 tax refund. If you haven’t yet, file your taxes early so that you’ll get your refund quicker.
If you have an emergency fund, now may be the time you dip into it if you need. Be mindful about how much you take out of this fund and start by taking as little from your emergency fund as possible. This amount will vary person to person, and family to family, but the idea is to allow yourself to use the cash to help cover immediate costs and alleviate stress and anxiety about paying your bills.
3. Access expanded government programs designed to help meet basic needs.
Government measures have been put in place to help families struggling to make important monthly payments. For example, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently enacted a 60-day foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single-family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages. If this moratorium doesn’t apply to you, or if you’re a renter, try contacting your mortgage lender or landlord (in writing) to let them know you’re going to have trouble paying. You may be able to work out an arrangement directly with them.
Dealing with an unresponsive or difficult landlord? Many states and cities have temporarily stopped evictions—check online to see if your state or city has, and make sure your landlord is aware of these laws. This can give you some additional breathing room on your rent payment.
ChildCare.gov is a great resource for families who are struggling during this time. The website has information on how to access helpful programs, like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help families with their energy bills, WIC and SNAP which provide food assistance, and child nutrition programs, including any local schools that are providing lunches despite school closures.
For parents who need help with buying basic supplies, such as diapers, the National Diaper Bank Network can help you access free diapers via a local diaper bank.
4. Talk to credit card companies and other lenders to help you create a plan for your debt.
The FDIC is encouraging banks and lenders to work with any customers impacted by the pandemic. Visit the American Bank Association’s website for an online list of banks that are helping those in need with mortgage loans, car loans, credit card payments.
If you’re worried about paying your federal student loans, you can now pause payments for up to six months—the federal government has also temporarily paused interest charges. But make sure you don’t just stop paying. Set your future self up for success and contact your lender to request an administrative forbearance.
Making a proactive call to your lender is also a good practice for any other loans or credit card accounts—don’t just ignore the situation and let an account go into default. Many credit card companies are offering to waive late payment fees or increase credit limits for those in need, but make sure to confirm with your bank or creditor before missing a payment or going over your limit.
This crisis is forcing many of us to make difficult choices and deal with new financial and personal challenges—remember you’re not in this alone, and there are many resources available to help you.