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COVID-19 Blew Up My Budget & How I Pivoted

Adjusting a professional budget or a personal budget due to financial strain is never fun but can save you a lot of worry by putting a plan is in place. This #MONEYTALK blog highlights a personal story where COVID-19 impacted a family’s income and what was learned while she pivoted during a vulnerable time. 


Ouch.

When COVID-19 arrived, it happened fast. Our worlds were turned upside down as the world entered a sudden lockdown which resulted in canceled travel, activities, and events and forced many restaurants, schools and business to shut down.

For the lucky ones, there was an opportunity to work from home and for many others, there were layoffs, reduced hours, and reduced pay. Health concerns surrounding COVID-19 are already stressful enough but concerns about money during an uncertain time amplifies this stress and anxiety to an overwhelming state.

My family was a mix of the two categories. My income was not impacted and I was able to work from home, but with my husband working in the trades – things got a bit uncertain. We were used to his variable income, his hours fluctuating each week and his net pay always being different. Creating a monthly budget was often a bit of a strategy game as we tried to estimate what his monthly net pay would be. Sometimes we’d over budget over and many times we didn’t budget enough but typically it all seemed to work out.

COVID-19 changed a lot for my family. There was no more work travel, he experienced reduced work hours, and my husband saw his pay decrease. Comparing March, April, and June to the few months before, we calculated a 30% decrease in our family income. Though we were lucky to both still be working and were used to having a variable monthly income, a 30% dip was unexpected. In order to support our family that includes two teenage girls, some budget shifting was clearly needed.

Budgets do help, especially in times of uncertainty

We’ve been using a monthly family budget for the last three years that outlines all of the money we anticipate to bring in and how we plan on spending that money. This also includes how much we plan on taking from each paycheck and putting away into a savings account. Throughout the month, we track our spending and compare it to the budget to see where we sit and if we need to watch our spending in certain categories. Spoiler alert: we are almost always over our Restaurants & Take-Out category!

When COVID-19 happened, we went back to our budget and re-adjusted the number to our new reality – decreasing our anticipated income and relooking at our expenses to see where we could reduce. Though there was a bit of stress at the beginning due to the unexpected income decrease, this was quickly gone once I was able to plug in the numbers and see that with a few changes to our budget – it would be okay.

Advice: A lot of our worries around money surround the anxieties of not feeling in control. Creating a budget helps you feel at ease and allows you to buy-in to your gameplan. It may seem like work to track all of your purchases and hold yourself accountable to stay within these budget categories but the peace of mind it brings you is very worth it! If you need help getting started, try our free budget calculator.

Mini Eggs add to the budget and waistline

Did anyone else feel they were no longer doing three meals a day but instead ten? With school being closed and us working from home, the sound of the fridge or pantry opening became more and more frequent. Snacking increased and our meals seemed to be more extravagant for every day of the week. Although delicious, this caused grocery lists, bills, and waistlines to inflate. Food kept us company during quarantine and a family sized bag of mini eggs was a very popular roommate in our household.

After a few (larger than I’d like to admit) grocery bills that brought us close to our monthly budgeted amount, we realized our current amount was not going to work. We increased our budget a bit to accommodate for the increase in fridge and pantry visits and then created a plan. This plan included setting out the menu for the week and making a grocery list of the ingredients needed. We also made sure to look at what we had in our freezer and pantry to use items that we may have forgotten we had or preparing simpler meals like soup and sandwiches. These minor habit changes allowed us to focus our spending and stick within the budget we had set.

Advice: “Leftovers” feels like a derogatory word. But if you cook with extra portions in mind, your monthly budget flourishes. We’d schedule “leftover night” into our weekly menu in order to save some room in our budget while also not having to worry about time preparing the meal.

Do I need this?

With stores closing down, I was no longer able to shop just for the sake of shopping. No more “just because” Winners trips that resulted in a $200 receipt from purchases I didn’t need.

COVID-19 helped me realize the unnecessary shopping I was doing and that I was adding budget line items to accommodate for these impulsive purchases. When looking at how to readjust our budget due to decrease in income, I looked at each budget item and asked myself: is this a NEED or a WANT? This helped me understand some of my impulsive spending habits and decrease areas within my budget that weren’t absolutely necessary.

Advice: Quick purchases may seem small but they add up quick. I challenge you to resist the urge of small, minor purchases (ie: picking up a coffee on the way to work) for a month and keep track of what they would have cost you. The results are eye-opening!

No money required

Before the pandemic, our family was always on the go and if we didn’t have a sport happening, we kept ourselves busy by going shopping or  an activity of some sort that usually had a cost associated with it. With everything being canceled or closed, we had to find new ways to stay busy.

Endless browsing of stores turned into walks around the neighbourhood and all the projects we had pushed to the side started getting done.  COVID-19 taught our family that there are many activities you can do that don’t cost you money. This was another expense we were able to reduce within our budget. We quickly learned that we don’t need to spend money in order to enjoy each other’s company and even when things return to “normal”, I can see us being a lot more frugal with how much we spend on activities.

Advice: Pinterest is a great source of inspiration in order to find free or low-cost activities for your family. Did you know you can combine cornstarch, water and food colouring to make your own sidewalk chalk paint? This is an example of how you can utilize items you will likely have around the house for a fun activity with no extra spending needed.

Be prepared for the unexpected

In the past, our family has experienced layoffs, illnesses, and injuries that prevented us from working and receiving a paycheck. We were never prepared for these unexpected events, which led to a lot of financial stress in figuring out how to pay bills or put food on the table.

We started putting money from each paycheck away into an Emergency Savings Account to be prepared for these unexpected moments. When our income dropped by 30%, there was a sense of relief as we had these emergency savings to lean back on if needed. Even though the adjustments in our spending prevented us from needing to dip into the account, it was nice to know it was there if needed.

Advice: You never know when there may be a pandemic, job loss, injury, or even an event that you weren’t planning on such as your water heater stopping or a car accident. An emergency savings account helps you be prepared for these moments and reduces any stress you may have from trying to find money within your budget to cover these unexpected expenses. Check out the #MONEYTALK blog, The Importance of Having an Emergency Fund, to learn more.

While COVID-19 caused some inconveniences and made our family shift, it also allowed us to re-examine our spending habits. The lessons we learned and the changes we made are ones we will continue doing, even as things, hopefully soon, return to normal.