The 5 Best Budget Tricks I Learned in Lockdown

cashier in grocery wearing face covering

During quarantine, you might’ve learned a trick or two about staying happy, healthy, and productive while stuck at home. We’ve all been forced to change our ways, while trying to maintain as much normalcy as humanly possible.

And if you cut back on your spending during the last few months, you’re not alone. According to estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), personal consumption among Americans dipped 13.6% (or $1.89 trillion) in April (as compared to March).

As non-essential businesses start to reopen across the U.S. and life tries (successfully or not) to get back to normal, it’s not a bad idea to think about the budget-trimming tactics you picked up while cities and states were in lockdown. While you’ve probably come up with some great money-saving techniques, here are a few budgeting tricks I learned during the quarantine — and have stuck to:

Batch Your Shopping Trips

Confession: I used to head over to the nearest discount grocery store to unwind. I’d sometimes go several times a week. As you might suspect, this typically led to impulse buys as I got a cheap thrill from the hunt for “amazing bargains.”

After stay-at-home orders were mandated, and we were advised to limit our shopping trips, I got used to only grocery shopping once every two weeks. To limit my exposure, I made this one trip count and tried to get any and all shopping done before hustling home. Shopping with purpose (and a list) made me more efficient and helped me cut way down on my extracurricular purchases.

Leaving aside the fact that limiting my exposure is still a good thing, I’m staying dedicated to shopping rarely and efficiently. Meanwhile, I’m still working on finding some less costly ways to unwind.

Access the Benefits of Online Shopping

While online shopping can cause you to spend more and buy things you don’t need, there are also a few tools in place that could help you save. For instance, consider online buying mainly essentials — groceries, household supplies, and personal care items. When you shop online, you have an easier time tallying the bill before you checkout.

What’s more, you can also keep items in your cart before buying. For household items, I’ll add items into my virtual shopping cart throughout the month. Before I hit “checkout” I’ll go over the full list and make sure I still need everything I’ve picked out. This staves off impulse shopping. I also prefer to pick up in-store or opt for a curbside pickup. That way I won’t be tempted by items that catch my eye, which is a danger when you’re perusing the aisles.

Use Cash-Back Rewards

You can also use cash-back rewards on your credit cards — this is usually when you’re paying through PayPal, or making a purchase on Amazon. Instead of routinely redeeming my credit card points on ride-shares or gift cards, I’ve used cash-back rewards a few times during quarantine. Browser extensions like Honey can help you find promo codes and apply them automatically.

For everything else, limit the amount of time you spend shopping. You can also limit your purchases. When I was in quarantine, I found myself squandering chunks of time surfing the web. In turn, those banner ads or an Instagram influencer account would entice me to buy something. I made a pact to allow myself only one non-essential online splurge a week.

Consider Eco-Friendly Alternatives

Going green can also put some greenback in your pocket. Due to shortages in household staples such as paper towels and toilet paper during quarantine, I started using eco-friendly choices that are also budget-friendly. I treated the last roll of paper towels in my kitchen as a sacred resource, and used them sparingly. Instead, I opted for cloth towels as much as possible.

Instead of paying for Swifter pads, I bought a cloth pad that I could wash and reuse. And I used white vinegar and Simple Green, which is available in concentrate, to clean cookware and surfaces.

Review Subscriptions and Recurring Bills Regularly

When the pandemic hit, I went through my living expenses to see which bills could be lowered, and which needed an adjustment. I switched car insurance providers from a policy where I paid in six-month chunks to a pay-per-mile policy. The coverage was pretty much identical to my previous insurer. Because I now batch my shopping trips and typically use my car to run local errands, I’ve saved an average of $50 a month on car insurance, or $600 a year.

I also went through my subscriptions and found a home internet plan that was the same price, but with faster speeds, than my old internet provider. Other subscriptions and recurring bills I reviewed included streaming entertainment platforms, charges for money apps, services for my freelance business, and recurring domains. I decided to drop a few subscriptions for services that I wasn’t really using.

Whether you're in quarantine or not, sticking to a budget can help you save when money is tight. If you need a budgeting boost or help repaying your credit card debts, MMI counselors are available around-the-clock to take a close look at your situation, come up with a personalized game plan, and get you moving toward your goals.

Tagged in Advice for families, Budget tips, Coronavirus, Disaster recovery, Smart shopping

Jackie Lam - author photo

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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