Time For a Pay Check
Updated: Apr 4
These days are strange.
Coronavirus is making its way around the globe and we are finding ourselves unsure at best and terrified at worst. How will this play out? When will it end?
I have no skills in medicine. I am not an expert in health. I can't sew and donate a mask.
But, I have not had a "regular" paycheck in about 3 years, so I AM experienced in how to live without one or at least make the last one last longer.
I don't intend to make light of anyone's situation, but hopefully I can share some practical tips on how to quickly cut unnecessary spending.
My husband and I participate in the F.I.R.E. (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement. That means that our (most recent) departure from the workforce was planned and not forced. Yet, we have been unexpectedly unemployed at times too and these same habits are what got us through with more than enough cash and serenity.
Our focus is on living our best life by prioritizing what is most important to us.
Once your values are mindfully aligned with your spending, even a global pandemic can be weathered with financial peace of mind.
That is basically what this post is about.
First, and this may sting a bit, but it is worth starting with the unpleasant truth that money problems are psychological. They may be relational or emotional or both, but regardless, managing money is an extension of one's psychology.
Personal finance is deeply personal.
Money is only a tool and it simply reflects back to us our own beliefs, fears and, well, psychological issues.
The good news is, once we understand this, we can master our money rather than letting our emotions run wild and subconsciously sink our finances.
If you are looking for more information on how your personal psychology works, I recommend the Enneagram. It is one of many tools that can shed a poignant light on our motives and why we behave as we do. But, it takes time to learn Enneagram and discover your number (it types people by using the numbers 1-9).
Then again, you may have time now if you are out of work. It is worth starting the journey now, even though it is not a "quick fix."
When I first connected the dots to what triggered my spending, I was decades away from learning my Enneagram number. So, take heart, even without that insight, you can still observe your behaviors and make good progress in creating new habits with money.
Some of the reasons we spend money mindlessly are to impress others, for love, to fit in, to fill a longing, to distract ourselves, to feel safe, to manipulate others, to boost our self-image, boredom and as a compulsion.
Do any of those resonate with you?
Notice how you feel before and after spending money.
There are no right answers here, and be easy on yourself because we are all works in progress. Just notice your behavior without judgement.
Now another truth. Although these issues are psychological, the solutions are likely spiritual.
I don't mean that you need to find a religion to course correct. I do mean that once we learn about our wounds and our impulses, it is helpful to look beyond the material world.
This post will not be detailed enough to delve into this because I want to include some tangible and practical moves you can make now. So suffice it to say that prayer, quiet time and self-reflection will guide you towards healing. Practice centering yourself so that you don't give in to destructive automatic behaviors that derail your finances.
Like any addiction or unhealthy behavior, simply curbing the symptoms does not constitute a cure. Whatever remains unresolved will rear its ugly head again in one way or another, even if you are able to temporarily improve your financial situation.
So now lets look at some fundamental figures.
First, we need to know how much money we have. Due to the virus, and so many businesses affected, this may be different than it was a few months ago.
This may be mundane and difficult, but it's important. Let's eat this money-elephant one bite at a time.
How much money do you REALISTICALLY expect to bring in in the next month? Add up all of your household's income sources to arrive at your (perhaps new) monthly amount. And your expected income amount is $______________________________ for this month.
Next, we need to find how much money we spend. How much money do you spend on average each month in these areas? Don't guess, look it up. Use your actual numbers from January/February if possible. This is critical that you know the actual numbers and you aren't estimating fluff. This includes:
Food (groceries, dinners out) Food Costs Total $_______________________
Housing (electric bill, gas bill, mortgage/rent, garbage/recycling, lawn care, taxes, insurance, water bill, etc) Housing Costs Total $______________________
Auto (gas/insurance/payment) Auto Costs Total $___________________
Health (Insurance, prescriptions, etc) Health Costs Total $_________________
Phone Service Phone Service Total $________________
Subscriptions (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Subscription Boxes, Cable TV, Gym Memberships, Disney+, etc) Subscriptions Total $________________
Anything else CRITICAL for you Critical Costs Total $_________________
For this last one (#7) I am leaving space for any non-negotiable individual expenditures that you have. This may include debt payments or other pressing responsibilities. DO NOT include your daily latte, your clothing, your makeup, your vacation fund or other fun money here. There is a place for that if we have any left over after realistically calculating our expenses. During COVID-19, if we are in crisis mode, these things move to the back burner. I promise life can still be enjoyable without the niceties we are used to.
In times of plenty, we might include expenditures such as clothes, hair/nails/spa, entertainment out, hobbies, etc. But this blog is for folks who are in a pinch financially and in desperate times, we don't need those extras.
Add up your totals for 1-7. Is it less than what your estimated income for this month is as figured above?
Hopefully it is.
Maybe it isn't.
The good news is that regardless of whether or not your income is greater, there are practical ways to cut your spending. Ideas to come, keep reading...
Friends, I really geek out with this stuff! For the average American, there are dozens if not hundreds of dollars of savings in the tips below. I know because I have done most of them. This work is not always fun to do, sometimes it's tedious, but it can really save you big bucks!
If you are still working, you can look into adjusting your tax withholding. Do you get a big refund every year? If so, that's not good. That means that you are giving the government more of YOUR income than you need to. You can always adjust your withholding to take home more starting immediately. Call your company's HR department or the person who cuts your paycheck to make the change.
Food: Make meals at home. You've heard this before. I keep hearing people encouraging others to buy from local restaurants right now. For many of us, that's not a great idea. It increases the risk of virus spread. Also, if you are uncertain that your income will cover your needs this month, this is the time to eat in! There are great recipes online!
Find a discount grocery store near you. We prefer ALDI. Seriously, shopping here will save you a bunch of cash. There are other lower cost stores around if Aldi is not near you. Try Lidl, Walmart and Grocery Outlet. Buy generic and on sale.
Meal plan! This means have a list when you shop and don't buy anything that is not on the list. This curbs impulse buying and also helps not to give in to junk food cravings.
Be mindful of your utility use! There are many ways to lower your electric bill . Turn the a/c off or warmer, call your utility company and see if they have any programs (i.e. an energy audit) to help you lower your bill. Examine all of your utility bills for ways to cut back.
When was the last time you checked your homeowner's insurance policies? You can possibly save by calling your agent and asking for help lowering your premium (i.e. adjust your deductible or coverage options). If that is fruitless, shop around, maybe another carrier has better prices.
Refinancing your mortgage may be an option, but it includes hefty fees, so be sure to read between the lines and weigh the pros and cons.
Do you have to have a lawn service? They are handy, but if money is tight, borrow your friends mower and d.i.y..
Your landlord may cut you some slack or work with you, it doesn't hurt to ask. Could you do some painting, maintenance, or the lawn in lieu of some of your rent payment? If you are handy this may work.
If you have a private vacant room, maybe a friend or family member can move in for the short haul. I know this makes some people cringe, but house-sharing is an excellent way to save. Or, maybe you can move in with someone. Perhaps you can get out of your pricey lease and pair up with a friend temporarily.
Auto: Hopefully you are saving on gas right now with stay-at-home orders and not going out unnecessarily.
Call your auto insurance company and see how you can reduce your premiums. If they can't help, shop around. If you are a military veteran or your parent is, check USAA. Their prices squash the little green gecko.
As far as your loan payments, this may be something to work on. If you are breaking your back to pay for a car, re-read the section about emotional spending. There is nothing wrong with nice cars, but if you can't afford it, there is something wrong.
Health: This is a personal subject and only you can decide how to manage it. Getting sufficient exercise, sleep, water and nutritional foods can go a long way in this department.
If you are willing to take risks (insurance is simply risk management) you may be able to adjust your health insurance costs. HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) are AWESOME! If you have an employer offered HRA (Health Reimbursement Account), that is AWESOME. Look into these things because they can help you save money!
If you are on prescriptions, shop around. Some pharmacies charge less for the same drugs, and go generic when possible. See if you can find a prescription card.
Phone Service: We are always amazed at how much people spend on phones. I have had a smart phone with Republic Wireless for 6 years. I pay $19 a month for my smart phone. My husband recently joined Republic too, but before that he used Airvoice Wireless and spent $10 a month. There are other budget phone companies like FreedomPop, Mint Mobile and Google FI that can significantly lower your phone expenses. Why pay more?
Subscriptions: Some of the previous categories may have triggered emotional reactions. If so, this one will likely be even more uncomfortable. Examine why that is.
I know that some of this spending seems necessary, but I suggest going without it for 60 days and seeing if you are really any less happy. I doubt you will be. If you absolutely cannot live without it (and you can afford it) you can always sign up again.
It turns out, human happiness does not originate from t.v. watching or stuff. While exercise can certainly boost happiness, you can do that without a gym. Cutting the cords on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Subscription Boxes, Cable TV, Gym Memberships, Disney+ and other automatic monthly payments will sting at first, but you will find freedom on the other side! These aren't inherently bad things, but if they are stressing your finances, they don't make sense. Especially now, when paychecks are lower or non-existent due to coronavirus, this is the time to bite the bullet. 60 days then reassess.
CRITICAL expenses: These are hard for me to speak to since they aren't specified. The point is, if you must pay it, and if you have money left over after food, housing, auto, health and affordable phone, then pay it. Otherwise dig in and find out how critical it really is. Brainstorm about it and look for a better solution.
If there is still some money left after all of your monthly expenses are accounted for, save it, give it and set aside some for your enjoyment.
Life is better when we make space.
Friends, this is your life. We only get one shot at it and only you can determine what is best for you.
Money is necessary but it is not everything. It can't make us happy. Cutting out clutter and excessive spending is so freeing. What is liberating is taking authority over your finances and even being able to give to charities that help others during this time of global sadness.
Helping others makes one's heart happy!
These are good questions to dig into while we are all staying at home and looking for productive activities to do.
Sending you prayers for wisdom, strength, hope and healing.