No one enjoys a pandemic, and right now, the COVID-19 coronavirus is shutting down businesses, minimizing foot traffic, and threatening the finances of many Americans and the economies across the nation. But there is good news in the middle of all this: being in quarantine is a fine time for introspection, where you have the time and peace needed to re-evaluate your lifestyle and make some fixes. By the time the quarantine is over, you may have learned new habits and skills, and discarded the wasteful and unnecessary habits and lifestyle patterns. Something can be done for your health, your finances, your hobbies, and even your general happiness. When it comes to money in particular, what should “something” be? There are many topics to cover; let’s explore them.
Something Affordable for Dinner
One thing is for sure: you need to eat three meals per day, no matter your income level or lifestyle. Every complete budget comes with a section for food, which ranges from buying ordinary groceries to visiting restaurants and cafes, or fast food. Is this expensive? It might be, depending on how you eat. Some foods are costlier than others, with foods like vegan beef and lobster coming to mind. In general, meats and exotic food are costlier, but you can swap them out for something more affordable. A vegetarian diet is fairly inexpensive, excluding the likes of vegan beef, and rice and beans are classic low-cost foods. But that’s not a nutritionally complete meal plan, so you should at least spend a little more to include whole dairy, whole wheat bread or grain products, lean meat like chicken and fish, and ordinary fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, peas, carrots, etc).
Your grocery budget should reflect the size and dietary needs of your family, and if you plan out meals ahead of time and make a schedule for the quarantine period, it should be fairly easy to set a concrete budget for food. You will save even more money by not going to restaurants, cafes, or bars, which are probably all closed right now anyway. The same may be true for fast-food restaurants; just one fast food meal might cost almost as much as a full day’s worth of groceries. Add up your weekly grocery bill and divide it by 21, for three meals each day, and see what each meal costs. Then compare that to the price of fast food or restaurants. Something will make itself very clear: going out to eat too much is recklessly expensive.
Spending Something on Health
This is definitely not an expense that should be cut too much. You must set aside something from your paychecks for health, and that even applies to quarantine budgeting. For example, suppose your children need braces, or you need a routine checkup or dental fittings put in place? Or the health of your pets, such as taking an injured or ill dog or cat to the animal hospital? Medical facilities are certainly still open, though you should be cautious about going to them.
Aside from possible cases of contracting COVID-19, there are other reasons to visit healthcare providers. If you develop a toothache, this is no time to just sit on it; be sure to go to your dentist and get taken care of, and be aware that your dentist’s scheduled appointments may have changed recently due to the pandemic. Call your dentist and check on your current appointments, and reschedule anything that you must. Something to note when visiting: try to arrive right on time, so you spend as little time as possible in the waiting room around other people. If other patients do the same, then you might not come face to face with anyone aside from the staff, and that is to be desired. And if you come down with something, whether COVID-19 or the ordinary flu or whatever, think twice about going to the dentist. Wait until you are better.
Cosmetic surgery can also wait, such as FUE transplants for your hair or botox services. Yes, these make you look your best and boost your confidence, but during a quarantine, you’re not going out with friends or meeting new dates. This can wait.
What about your mental health? It is likely that local counseling services are not allowing in-person visits, but they may allow phone-based sessions to be held. As for spending money on this, do so if you have a legitimate need for counseling, such as serious anxiety or stress that results in physical symptoms. Otherwise, however, it may not make sense money-wise to reach out to counseling services simply because you are bored or getting cabin fever or miss going out with friends. This is not the right reason to spend money; instead, look for a new low-cost hobby to try, and read more books and watch educational documentaries to keep yourself occupied.
Saving Money on Vehicles
Most American adults own one or more cars or pickup trucks, and some own ATVs or boats, too. Right now, it is probably a bad idea to visit Chevrolet dealers or Toyota dealers for a brand-new car, and those dealers might not even be open. Or if they are, their hours might be restricted. This is a time for restraint, given the financial uncertainty of the pandemic, and getting a shiny new sports car should be pretty low on your list of priorities. The same is true for going to local boat dealers or marinas for a new vehicle; put simply, it can wait. Keeping up with rent/mortgage costs and putting food on the table comes first, not to mention health, and the fun stuff will be waiting for you when the pandemic is over.
Car repair is a different issue, though. If something is going wrong with your car, then, by all means, take it to the shop and have a mechanic look at it and fix the problem. You probably have enough to worry about without your car breaking down on the road. Replacing a bad wheel bearing or getting a new oil filter during the quarantine is responsible; buying a muscle car for fun in the same context is just silly.
Ordering Products Online
Many shops and stores are closed right now, so that leaves online catalogs. Is it time to buy something and have it show up at your door? Depends. Some purchases are sensible, such as getting groceries or food delivered, but buying a four-figures zero turn mower for your lawn may not be such a good call. This quarantine is a time to cut out extravagances, and you might be surprised by what can be reclassified as an extravagance. Your lawn might look so nice, but it’s better to have a messy yard than have an empty fridge or a stack of overdue bills. It may not be pleasant, but you may also end up freezing your spending on hobbies of all kinds, and reconsider buying items related to those interests.
What should you buy instead? Something inexpensive, such as used books, is a fine idea since a book can keep you occupied for hours without an electronic screen, and books can be highly educational and cover material that hasn’t yet been shown on TV or in a movie. You might also buy supplies for inexpensive hobbies such as watercolors, drawing and sketching, and the like. You might also order a pair of running shoes so you can (responsibly) go for jogs or runs outside.
On the plus side, you might find room in your budget to buy little gifts for your family and friends, to cheer them up and keep with holidays and special occasions. Many websites feature inexpensive little gifts for anyone from adolescents to beloved grandparents, and you might even find charming antiques for surprisingly low prices. Not all antiques are ultra-expensive wine bottles or silver-framed mirrors or boxes of jewelry that belonged to ancient royalty. Semi-modern antiques come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, and yes, prices. Buying inexpensive antiques as gifts can be a great idea for your aging parents’ birthday, for example, or for any antique collector in your family or circle of friends. Antique shops are probably all closed right now, but the internet can help you with this.
Is this something you should spend your money on while under quarantine? In some ways, it might be, though you are advised to hold off on major renovation projects. Ordinarily, homeowners like to spend good money to have several rooms of their house remodeled with the aid of contractors, or even remake the entire house. This can make the house much more pleasant and generate a high ROI (return of investment), especially when the kitchen and bathroom are remodeled. For now, though, this probably counts as an extravagance, and remodeling your kitchen can wait. Projects like that might cost as much as five figures, after all, and you’re better off using that cash to keep ahead of your current expenses without adding contractor fees on top.
Fixing your utilities is a different matter, though, and a leaking pipe or busted air conditioner certainly calls for professional aid, even during a quarantine. It may feel stressful to pay for AC services or plumbers, but that’s better than having the electric bill or water bill go out of control. Busted utilities aren’t just uncomfortable to live with; they waste a lot of money, such as water constantly leaking or spraying out of damaged pipes. And keep in mind that a dirty, clogged, or worn-out HVAC system will be very inefficient and waste a lot of expensive electricity to run. In a typical house, the HVAC system uses up nearly half the electricity, so naturally, maximum efficiency is good in the long run.
What about furniture and home decor? Under normal circumstances, this is a popular topic, as many homeowners want to renovate their living space’s interior for a fresh new look. A HomeGoods survey shows that about 20% of all Americans, or one in five, are happy with their home decor. All the rest want to buy something new to refresh their living space, from classy wooden furniture to a stylish rug to new framed photos or paintings. For the most part, this kind of spending should be put on hold, since an old painting or rug won’t waste money the way a leaking pipe will. But you can look online at certain websites to get ideas, and start planning and daydreaming about your home’s new interior decor ideas for when the quarantine ends. Just be sure that your finances are stable first.
What about estate planning? This is when you hire professional help to write your will, and this is something that many Americans take lightly. Often, they think that their eventual death is too far off to bother writing a will for, or they think their estate is too small to bother with. Or they simply procrastinate. In general, estate planning is something to hold off on during this quarantine, and while COVID-19 can kill, some Americans are more at risk than others. If you are not elderly and if your immune system is not compromised, your odds of losing your life may be quite low. Consult medical sites and other experts for the exact figures. But as a whole, it may be a poor use of money to panic and write your will with the aid of a costly lawyer.
This should be fairly straightforward. Traveling and going on vacation is not such a good idea right now since people traveling all over the place is a good way for COVID-19 to spread all over. And most tourist spots and locations are closed anyway, reducing the appeal of travel. Most likely, you have already canceled your existing travel plans, and this may be a chance to re-evaluate your travel style anyway. You might realize that flying around the world is not such good use of money, and decide to start touring the local area by car instead, and this can save you money after the quarantine ends. The U.S. is home to a robust domestic tourism industry, after all; why not give that a try when the quarantine is over? If you have a hardy car or SUV, you can travel practically anywhere for a relatively low cost, and you can discover a lot of fun new sights, sounds, and attractions this way. During the quarantine, though, hold off on this, and instead brainstorm ideas for future road trips.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that any spending that can be cut, should be cut, even for long-desired expenses like a vacation or a new sports car or even cosmetic surgery. Right now, your bills, rent/mortgage, and health are the only real priorities for spending money, and anything else can wait until the quarantine is over. And during this time, you might realize that you don’t miss those things as much as expected, and you can learn how to have fun without them. This can free up money for the things you truly enjoy and like instead.