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- I’ve been a full-time freelancer for the past five years and haven’t had much issue keeping my income steady. But thanks to the coronavirus, many of my clients have cut back on assignments.
- My emergency savings fund is in good shape, but I don’t want to drain it before the pandemic is over.
- Since I’m still making some money, I asked four financial experts how to cut my spending so I can live on the money I’m bringing in and not have to blow through my savings.
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I’ve been working overtime to build up my savings account since 2015, after I was laid off from my job and realized my finances were a big mess. When I switched from a full-time job to being a full-time freelancer and business owner, I made it a point to add to my savings account and emergency savings fund every single month.
But due to the shakeup caused by the coronavirus, my projects have thinned out and my clients have taken a few steps back and put work on hold. The money isn’t coming in as steadily as it was before the virus, which made me panic about dipping into and depleting my savings account.
I’d prefer to live on the money I’m making rather than blowing through my savings, so I decided to ask four financial experts how I can stay on track when my income is very much up in the air and my bills are very much arriving on schedule.
Budget and cut back
The biggest goal I have is to keep my spending down, which I thought would be easy since I rarely leave my house. But in fact, it’s been a challenge. Giving into online shopping, especially for groceries and household goods, has my credit card balances soaring.
Angela K. Holliday, president of Frost Brokerage Services and Frost Investment Services, advises avoiding panic purchases, retail therapy, or running up credit card debt.
“While it may relieve some short-term stress, it can leave you with unplanned debt in the long run. It’s also a good time to review your investments and focus on the long-term strategy — even during a time when the short term may be all you can think about,” says Holliday.
Since I’ve never been one to stick to a budget written down on paper, I decided to get crafty with monitoring my spending.
I started by deleting all of my saved credit card information from my phone and computer. That way, when I go to buy something, I have to take the extra step of manually plugging in my credit card information. This helps give me a checkpoint to decide if I really need what I’m about to buy.
I also add things to my online shopping cart with a 24-hour hold (I make myself do this — it’s not an option that the stores give) so I can think through my purchases. This has reduced my unnecessary spending and forced me to focus on buying only the essentials.
Negotiate current bills
Looking at my stack of bills due in April gives me anxiety. How am I going to pay my rent, my cable, my utilities, and more without taking all of the money out of my savings account?
Nathan Grant, a senior credit industry analyst with Credit Card Insider, says to give these companies (or your landlord) a call and see what you can negotiate.
“For example, Capital One, American Express, Chase, Citi, and even Apple have already made announcements that they’re offering different forms of emergency support to their customers facing financial strain due to the coronavirus pandemic,” says Grant.
So what will these places offer you? Grant says some of the relief efforts include deferred loan payments, fee suppression, and minimum payment assistance, which can save you money for the time being until you once again have a steady source of income.
Some utility companies are providing assistance during this crisis, too, so be sure to contact them right away if you need to pause your payments.
Open a high-rate CD
Katie Swanson, a CPA with Wilson Toellner CPA, says there are some smart ways to handle your 2019 tax return.
“If you are due a refund on your 2019 income tax return, get your return filed ASAP and set up the refund to be a direct deposit,” says Swanson. “If you owe on your 2019 income tax return, defer payment until July 15, 2020, the new filing and payment deadline.”
I’m due a tax refund, so I started thinking about the best way to use that incoming money. I have decided to open up a high-rate CD, with no penalty to withdraw the money, so that it can be used as a backup emergency fund and generate around 1.7% interest for the year.
Eliminate unnecessary expenses
High up on my to-do list this week is a plan to go through every single one of my credit card charges and payments from the last few months to see what I can cut back on.
Ande Frazier, a Certified Financial Planner and the author of the new book “Fin(anci)ally Free,” says that it’s time to eliminate unnecessary, discretionary expenses — and to be heavy-handed about it.
“Think data plans, streaming services, fitness memberships, and goods and services (hair, nails, shoes, etc.). Determine what you can eliminate or put on pause for the time being — this can generate some money that can be re-deployed,” says Frazier. “Start with going through your credit card statements, bank accounts, and more, to see what can be stopped for the time being. Add that up to get a picture of how much money you have to put toward your non-discretionary expenses.”
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