It’s crazy out there. Weeks ago, everyone was joking about people loading up on toilet paper, and now it’s hard to find a roll when you need one. It kind of makes you want to stock up. On everything. It might even make you want to buy stuff you’ve never even used before because, well, what if you suddenly need it?
Don’t do it. Don’t fall into the coronavirus shopping frenzy. It’s a very real issue, and it’s causing very real problems—like product shortages and busted budgets. Now more than ever, it’s important to be wise with your spending. Here are some practical ways you can avoid the frenzy:
Determine Your Needs
One way to stay calm in the craze is to look around your home and figure out what you actually need. For example, you may need hand sanitizer. But you don’t need 56 bottles.
Create a Shopping List
As you plan, think about the next two weeks. What would help you stay stocked up and fed for a week or two? Why that long? Well, any time you can limit shopping trips, you’ll save money—even when there’s no pandemic.
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Constant trips the store happen when we don’t take the time to really plan ahead. Plus, they waste gas. That’s any day. And today we’re all limiting our trips into the world, so go ahead and get into the practice of making better grocery and household shopping lists now.
It’s okay to get a little bit extra, like two boxes of your kids’ favorite cereal instead of just one. But don’t let fear fill your shopping cart. You’re a wise, calm budgeter—not a doomsday prepper.
If you don’t already meal plan, start now. Meal planning keeps you from wasting money because you buy only what you really need.
So, get out a calendar. Then look in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Based on what you already have, what meals can you put together for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next week or two? Jot those down. What meals could you make if you bought just a couple more things? Jot those down too.
Once you’ve got that ready, then you can plan out other meals to make. And don’t forget snacks—especially while you’ve got even more people in the house.
Add everything you need to that shopping list. Then pull a Santa Claus and check it twice. That’s how you avoid making a million extra trips to the store.
Adjust Your Budget
Some people freak out when they have to adjust a budget line. Don’t freak out! A budget is about you—your income, your goals and your situation. When any of those things change, your budget should change too.
Right now, you’ve got more people in the house all day. You might need to up that grocery budget line. But since you aren’t driving around much, your gasoline budget line will probably be way lower. And that entertainment budget line may have changed from concert tickets and movies out to puzzles and a TV streaming service. Make the changes you need for the life you’re living now.
If your income has dropped, you may have to drop some extras. Focus your budget on covering the Four Walls first: food, utilities, shelter and transportation. In other words, you feed your family, keep the lights on, pay the rent or mortgage, and get yourself to work (if you aren’t working from home). Those are your budgeting priorities now. You also want to put money in savings. (We’ll cover that more in a minute.) Then see what extras you can still cover.
Remember—this isn’t forever. Say it again, because we all need to hear it right now. This. Isn’t. Forever. Change up the budget to help you get through this. And you will get through this!
Sticking to Your Budget
Your biggest temptation right now may be comfort spending. That could mean you’re wanting to buy things that bring you comfort or you’re emotionally spending on things you don’t need. Be careful with the first one and avoid the second one altogether.
Don’t sacrifice those Four Walls or other more important expenses. Don’t go overboard. But if you’ve got space in the budget to buy that book you’ve wanted to read for years—do it. Just don’t let spending money be what soothes you right now. Emotional spending is a dangerous habit that could stick around long after the pandemic.
If you haven’t already, download EveryDollar. It’s our free budgeting tool, and it can help you stick to your budget through all these changes.
Your Financial Future
Uncertainties in life happen all the time. Let’s be honest, this one is huge. But no matter the size of the uncertainty, you’ll be able to stand up to it when you’ve got an emergency fund.
If you’ve still got money after you cover your Four Walls, put it to good use! If you've got debt and you're confident your job will be around in the next three to six months, keep working your debt snowball. If you're unsure, pay only the minimum payments for now and put more money in savings. You’ll get back to crushing debt in time, but right now, you need a bigger savings account.
And if you’ve got money in retirement investments—do not cash out. That’s like jumping out of a roller coaster mid-loop. And that’s how you get hurt.
Listen, we know it’s hard to look to the financial future when you’re in the middle of a crisis or a tough situation. But you can still make good decisions for your money. You can still make and keep to your budget. The stress of right now really is temporary. This will not last forever. And future you will say thanks for not going off the rails with your spending now.
So take a breath. Plan your spending. Adjust your budget. And don’t let fear bully you into a shopping frenzy. Be good to your budget. Be good to yourself.