Thursday, May 7, 2020

Saving in the Time of COVID-19

Most of us are reeling from the uncertainty of this time we're in, and considering we are staring down the barrel of a major economic depression, we can all use some new ways to save and stretch money.  Below is just a short list of things I'm doing as a result of working from home, and also some things I always do to save money.  As always, this list is based on my observations and experiences, so please chime in with any other suggestions you have in the comments!

1. If you are working from home and not driving your car, update your car insurance so that you are not paying for any extras.  Note: if you are still making payments on a car loan, you often have to keep a certain level of coverage, so double check this first.  In our case, we own our two 2012 Prius's outright, so I reduced our coverage to the absolute bare minimum.  We had just made our six month payment, and reducing coverage got us almost $300 refunded.  Some companies are automatically giving people some money back, but you can also further reduce, and get even more back.  For instance, I saw that Geico is giving people 15% back, which is great, but I got us 30%, which is better.

2. Reduce food waste as much as possible.  Wasting food = wasted money.  Shop strategically and try not to buy more fresh produce at a time than you know you can eat.  It's very easy to feel virtuous while in the produce section, but if you bring home three kinds of salad greens, and then have a cold, rainy week where you don't want to eat salad at all--it's going to go bad.

  • Plan meals in advance, and shop according to the plan.
  • Make frozen veg your friend--often frozen vegetables are better for you because they are frozen at peak freshness, whereas fresh produce needs to travel to market and loses nutrients.
  • Assess your kitchen for weaknesses.  What do you frequently end up wasting?  How can you focus on the problem areas and eliminate or reduce waste?  For instance, we use milk very infrequently, and used to buy it in half gallons, only to have it keep going bad when the container was half empty.  Now, we buy a half gallon of milk and portion it out into pint jars with lids.  Most of those go into the freezer, and we pull them out and thaw as needed.  This has made is waste less, and also stop making extra trips to the store.
  • If you don't like a food, don't buy it. When people are trying to avoid the grocery store, it can be very tempting to stock up on things like rice, pasta, canned vegetables, which seems like a logical choice.  But, if you never eat rice and don't really have a way to incorporate it into your eating repertoire, you can use that shelf space for something that makes more sense for you.  If you don't want to eat canned soup or peanut butter, then don't buy it!

3. Put all your spare cash into a high interest savings account.  The Federal Reserve Bank slashed interest rates a while ago, but there are still some banks where you can get a decent return for savings accounts--more for Money Market accounts.  For instance, we are socking cash into a Capital One Money Market account, which nets us 1.3% interest for balances over $10,000 (about $15/month).  Their regular savings account rate is .5% last I checked.  That's not great, but it's still free money.  I like free money.  If you got the government stimulus check and you don't need it right away, put it into savings and leave it alone.

4. Don't blow a bunch of money on kitchen gadgetry.  Everyone in my fb feed starting baking bread as soon as stay at home orders came out, and I admit that I was mildly tempted to try my hand at bread baking again, but I didn't--for a couple of reasons:

  • I've tried bread baking before and I find it frustrating, time-consuming and just not worth the effort.  Sure, I could probably get better with more practice, but once I'm back to commuting to work every day, I'm not going to spend my downtime baking bread.  
  • I also don't have any bread pans, and I don't want to buy them on the off chance that this is a hobby that will stick. If there's something you want to do in the kitchen and it requires a bunch of equipment you don't own, maybe take a step back and think about what you can do with what you already have.  Or see if you can borrow what you need from a friend.
5. Try not to panic shop or shop out of boredom.  If you have to, unsave all credit card info from sites that you frequent.

6. Focus on reuseables.  If you have an extreme paper towel habit, try switching to rags and reuseable napkins for most of your needs. If you have on-site laundry and are working from home, this is the perfect time to figure out if this is a solution you can work with.

7. Get a bidet attachment for your toilet.  We got one from amazon a few months ago, and it has been a total game-changer.  For the low price of $25, we have cut our toilet paper use in half, which will more than pay for the bidet in less than a year. Plus, I feel cleaner than I ever have, and my husband installed it in less than an hour.

8. Wear your clothes out.  And by that, I don't mean out of the house, but rather wear them until they are falling apart, then transfer them to the rag bag to be used in place of paper towels for cleanup.  There is something supremely satisfying (to me) to getting every single last use out of an item.  Especially when most of us are at home more than ever, there's no reason to spend money on new clothes.  When I feel tempted to buy new clothes, I first make myself go look at what I already have, and usually realize that I have everything I need already.

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