By Jennifer Bridge
Over the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives, including our finances. Some have lost jobs or have had hours reduced. Others have seen changes in expenses with some payments increasing while others have decreased. The pandemic has even changed some of our attitudes about money. Developing and sticking to a budget can help you work through any hardships caused by the pandemic, gain control of your finances and get you back on track to achieving your financial dreams.
To help you get started, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has a basic budget sheet available online at https://bit.ly/spending-savings.
The first step in any budget is to evaluate your monthly income. If you have lost or changed your job because of the pandemic, this part of your budget may be different than it was a few months ago. You may have temporary sources of income, such as unemployment benefits that you need to include.
Next, think about your monthly expenses. Some of these are going to be fixed expenses, which means you pay the same amount each month. These expenses include things like your mortgage, car payment or insurance. Other payments like your utilities change every month and are called flexible expenses. Evaluate whether your flexible expenses have changed because of the coronavirus. For example, if you are working from home, you may be using more electricity now than in the past.
With many people at home and businesses shut down the past few months, you may have saved some money in areas like child care, entertainment, dining out and gas. Were you able to save these funds, or did you spend it in other areas? If you find you have saved some money, you can allocate it to areas of your budget to help fill in gaps. You may want to use it to pay down some debt or build your savings account to help pay for future emergency expenses. As businesses reopen and more people return to work, you may need to count on some of these expenses increasing within your budget, while there could be others you may not need anymore.
If you are struggling to have your income cover your expenses, look for areas you can trim or eliminate. Common places where people find they can trim expenses are communication and entertainment. For example, bundling your internet and television may be cheaper than paying for each separately, or you may be able to reduce your streaming service subscriptions. You can also reduce the number of times you dine out, or you can start meal planning to help you lower your grocery bill. If you are struggling, evaluate whether each potential purchase is a need or a want and buy only what you need. Try to avoid impulse purchases, whether they be in the stores or online. If you find online shopping too tempting while you are at home, you may consider staying off internet shopping sites altogether.
Many creditors are offering emergency financial assistance in the forms of forbearance or delayed payments due to the pandemic. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a wealth of information about the types of financial assistance that is available to consumers, and it is regularly updated. You can read more about different types of financial assistance online athttps://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/. If needed, take advantage of these forms of financial relief. However, realize that these may end up costing you more in additional interest in the long run, so they should only be used if necessary. If you have emergency savings, consider using it to pay necessary expenses and rebuild it as soon as you can.
More information on family financial education is available by contacting the Meade County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability