With serious economic trouble looming, millions of potential workers applying for unemployment benefits and an entire country settling into a new and tense reality, it’s more important now to extend money’s purchasing power than it’s ever been -- especially if you're currently out of work and receiving unemployment insurance.
Last updated: June 7, 2021
Break Out the Coupons
Thanks to sites like Coupon Sherpa, Coupons.com and others, using coupons has never been easier and they can help you save money immediately. Right now, for example, you can save $1 on Coupons.com on both Clorox disinfecting mopping cloths and Scrubbing Bubbles bath cleaning products — good finds in a time when supplies of cleaning products are sparse and expensive.
Earn Money Through Your Credit Card
You can make your credit card pay you back by taking up your issuer on introductory offers. Some cards, for instance, offer a $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in purchase transactions within 90 days of account opening. Be sure not to overspend in order to meet that goal. But if you normally spend that much over that time period on necessities and your budget anyway, this is a good perk that will help you save.
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Debit card, credit card, Apple Pay — in this cash-hating world, it’s easy to swipe away your paycheck without realizing exactly how much you’re spending. That’s why tracking your spending is on top of most money-saving experts’ lists.
Whether you use Mint, You Need a Budget or another money-managing app, or just study your bank and card statements, the first step in cutting back is to shock yourself at what you’re spending your paycheck on. Once you get an exact picture of where your money is going, the harsh truth of it all might be enough to help you cut back.
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Shop Around for a New Savings Account
While historically low interest rates are good for homeowners looking to buy or refinance a mortgage, they’re bad news for savings accounts. A few months ago, it wasn’t uncommon to earn 1.90% on a high-yield savings account, but today, those numbers have dropped down closer to 1.50%. You can, however, do better with a little poking around. Revisit your account, see what you’re earning and shop around for a better savings rate. Just make sure to avoid any accounts that come with fees, which will quickly erase gains.
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Put the Brakes on Online Shopping
Although some online shopping might be important these days if you need certain necessities, it could be all too easy to click your paycheck away at unnecessary online retailers, especially ones for which you already have a credit card or bank account on file. One click, and there goes another day’s take-home pay.
Consider removing your credit card info from online retailers you don’t need to buy from right now. And if you do find yourself shopping online, let the items sit in the cart overnight so you give yourself time to really think about whether you need these things.
Join Amazon Prime (If It Makes Sense)
Although you’re likely not looking to add new expenditures, a Prime membership could quickly pay for itself in the current crisis, presuming you don’t have one already. As social distancing sets in for the long haul, free and fast shipping is more important than ever — but a Prime membership could also save you money by helping you consolidate costly subscriptions. Prime Video — and its ocean of free content options — is included, which could allow you to dump Netflix or a similar platform. Likewise for Prime Music if you subscribe to a service like Spotify or Pandora. Prime also comes with a massive free e-book library and free photo storage, if you’re looking to shed any reading or cloud storage subscriptions.
Opt For No-Rush Shipping
If you purchase something from Amazon and you don’t need it right away, the company will compensate you for allowing it to prioritize the customers who do have rush orders. Select “no-rush shipping” at checkout and you’ll get either a prize or a reward — you’ll still get your item for free, and you’ll get it within six business days.
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If you’re currently fighting off high-interest credit card debt, consider transferring that debt to a card designed for balance transfers, which can offer extended low- or no-interest introductory rates. Doing so will help you to save money on interest and possibly even your minimum monthly payments.
Reconsider Health and Wellness Subscriptions
Now that you’re trapped inside, you might be clinging to workout, yoga, mindfulness and meditation apps as tightly as you are to those that deliver streaming video. The truth, however, is that YouTube alone offers free content in every health and wellness niche imaginable. That makes paid apps harder to justify financially — including those that are connected to data-driven wearables — at least until this financial storm passes.
Rotate Crossover Subscriptions
If you really can’t live without both Hulu and Netflix — or any two similar competing services — slash your bills by rotating your subscriptions. Most platforms lump their best shows into seasons and let you binge them all at once. One of the main attractions to cord-cutting is that there aren’t long-term contracts with streaming. Take advantage of both dynamics at once by starting one service and stopping the other one next month, switching the next month, and so on.
Downgrade Premium Subscriptions
Another way to save a few bucks a month without losing too much in terms of quality of life is to rethink high-tier subscriptions. Netflix, for example, costs about three bucks more per month for premium service than it does for standard service. If you drop down a tier, you’ll be able to watch on only two screens instead of four, but you still get high-def streaming and you can still watch on all your devices.
Some belt-tightening decisions are hard. One that’s easy is to make sure you’re not giving money away to ghost subscriptions — that’s when you try out a service with a free trial period and forget to unsubscribe. From cloud and photo storage services to gaming apps and alternative streaming sites, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about old subscriptions set for automatic payment. You can look for ghost subscriptions by combing back over past statements on your credit and debit cards, PayPal and the rest, or you can use a site like Truebill to do it for you.
So-called vampire appliances are those that continue to consume electricity even when they’re turned off. There’s a simple solution — unplug them when they’re not in use. Gaming consoles are on the list, as are coffee makers, printers, microwaves and TVs. Taking this simple step — made simpler with switch-based power strips — will equate to small but consistent savings that will add up over time.
Take Advantage of Government Action
Most people have heard that a massive government stimulus package includes $1,200 checks for millions of Americans, depending on income, as well as $500 per child — and you don’t have to do anything to apply. There are many other measures, however, that could help you save, too. Some vary by state, but you can apply for more time to pay or even to file your taxes, and if you lose your job, unemployment benefits have been dramatically expanded. You might even be able to defer or lessen your credit card, mortgage or student loan payments without accruing new interest.
Ditch the Debit Card for Cash Back
If you have the money in your checking account to cover purchases, you can build an ever-growing cash reserve by making any necessary purchases with a cash-back credit card. Rack up cash back to make the most of your money. The trick is to pay your balance in full every month. If you don’t have the cash to cover the purchase, finance charges will quickly gobble up all your cash-back gains.
Work Rotating Points
Some cash-back cards work on a flat-rate system — the best of the bunch right now offer around 2% cash back. Others, however, have rotating categories that can earn you as much as 5% —provided you use the right card for the right kind of purchase at the right time of year. It takes more effort than flat-rate cards, but if you can organize and keep up with it, you can double your cash back or more compared to what you’d get with a simpler flat rate.
Refinance Your Home
One silver lining of the recent crisis is that the Federal Reserve’s response has dropped mortgage rates to or near historic lows — 3.29%, according to Yahoo Finance. The average borrower would save $700 a year right now for every $100,000 borrowed compared to a year ago. No matter when you borrowed money to buy a home, that money was probably more expensive than it would be now if you chose to refinance.
Consider a Credit Union
You might do best of all — in terms of both borrowing and saving — if you choose a credit union over a traditional bank. Unlike traditional institutions, credit unions are member-owned nonprofits that tend to — but not always — offer higher rates for deposits and lower rates for loans with fewer fees associated with each.
Cash In on Order In
Although dining in at restaurants doesn’t jive with the new normal, many delivery-based food businesses like Domino’s and Papa John’s are making big pushes to offer no-touch, contact-free food delivery. If you do feel comfortable ordering delivery from businesses that are taking precautions, make sure to cash in on special offers. Just by signing up for the Domino’s app, for example, you can earn a free pizza after roughly six orders.
No matter what you buy — with a few exceptions like fresh produce — you’ll save money without sacrificing quality or flavor with the store-brand option. There are exceptions, of course — nothing tastes quite like a Coke for many people. For the most part, however, you’ll spend less on everything from milk and juice to tomato sauce and ground beef when you buy the generic store brand.
Cash In on What You Have
If you’re cooped up at home, you could do yourself two favors at the same time by using your newly found free hours to declutter. First, you’ll get peace of mind and better use of your space. More importantly, however, you can convert the stuff you don’t want into the cash you need by using apps like OfferUp and Letgo. It’s a great time to sell your clutter — there are plenty of other cash-strapped quarantiners who are looking to save money by purchasing previously owned merchandise instead of new.
Buy Cheap Gift Cards
Sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool let you buy gift cards, that are good at all your favorite stores and sites, at a discount. That’s because other people who are also thinking about their budgets as the coronavirus crisis unfolds make money by selling gift cards they’re not going to use. You can buy them on the cheap and extend your purchasing power at a place where you were going to buy something anyway.
Sell Unused Gift Cards
On the other side of the coin, you could become a seller and get whatever you can for gift cards that would likely go unused or that you could otherwise do without. Gift cards come in randomly on birthdays and holidays, and sometimes they have nothing to do with your taste at all. Using the exact same sites you would use to buy them, you can turn them into a little extra cash by selling.
Don’t Get Scammed
The stimulus checks haven’t even been deposited and already the Federal Trade Commission is warning about a wave of scammers trying to cash in on the crisis. Some scammers are peddling unproven coronavirus treatments, others are running cons involving fake tests.
Some swindlers are pitching phony work-from-home opportunities that you have to buy into. Others are selling legitimate products while engaging in good old-fashioned price gouging. Visit the FTC’s dedicated Coronavirus Scams page to make sure you don’t let an opportunistic scammer come between you and your money at a time like this.
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Terence Loose contributed to the reporting for this article.