Here’s how to save money even during a pandemic
Rewind 10 years to 2010. Seems like a lifetime ago, right? But during that time, Arizona like much of the country, was in the midst of the Great Recession. But the impact here was felt even harder than nearly any other state nationwide.
I know, I would rather forget it, too.
Though for far different reasons, this year has rivaled (many may say topped) the most trying of times; even those during the recession. As with then, one of the last things on anyone’s mind is saving. But business leaders, heads of household and investors of every shape and size would be smart to continue on a disciplined path toward building your nest egg for the future. But with so many uncertainties, is this really the time?
Here are some tips from local experts on the do’s and don’ts of saving (and when to spend), even during a pandemic:
“If you haven’t already done this, look hard at your monthly spending to see what your bare bones budget really is. Once that is established, verify you have six months of that tight budget saved,” says Janenne Lackey, CFP, financial advisor with Wilde Wealth Management Group.
Lackey also suggests setting aside some money, earmarked for investment opportunities when they present themselves.
“It is important to earmark funds and assign savings for your future goals,” says Lackey. “Otherwise, when extra cash just sits there in savings, it may become too tempting not to spend it.”
Kim Dees, senior vice president at WaFd Bank Arizona, echoes Lackey’s statements and reiterates the importance of a true emergency fund.
“Do you have one? If not, start one now,” says Dees. “And if you do have one, stop, breathe and think before pulling out money. While that is what it is there for, define what truly is an emergency for you or your family and make a rule about withdrawals. For example, if you’ve been working from home and it’s made you want to re-model certain rooms; that’s great. But is that really a good enough reason to touch emergency funds?”
Also, advises Dees, maintain your credit.
“It can be difficult to decide what bills to pay when funds are short. Be proactive by reaching out to creditors to learn about payment deferments or reducing your minimum payments due. Ask the question as to how this is reported to the credit bureaus as well. Most creditors are willing to work with you before it becomes a problem,” says Dees.
Marcus E. Ortega, ChFC, RFC, chief executive officer of Mosaic Financial Associates, adds that if absolutely necessary, you can reduce or even stop making your regular investments to such things as 401k, Roth IRA and 529 Plan to provide you with a little extra cash on a short-term basis.
“A chief reason to do this, if needed, is so that you have the money to use now versus accessing your investments and avoiding paying early withdrawal taxes, ” says Ortega. “Be aware, though, that when the time of uncertainty passes, you need to adjust back and play catchup where you can. Resume regular investments. Increase your contribution to your 401K, reallocate money to your Roth or your 529 plan to make up for the short-term loss.”
Ortega notes that it may seem tempting, but do not immediately look to access the funds in your long-term retirement accounts just because the government has waived the early withdrawal penalty.
“Just because the penalty itself is waived does not mean this is free money,” says Ortega. “Besides ordinary income taxes on the distributed amount – unless this is a Roth – the opportunity cost could be substantial, especially if the withdrawal is taken out during a low point in the market.”
Paul Rizzo, president of Rizzo Financial Group, has one very big way to save some funds without turning to your long-term investments: assess all those subscriptions and services.
“Let’s call this a recurring services audit,” says Rizzo. “To do this, review your bank statement and credit card statements for any recurring charges first. If you are the head of your household, do this for the entire family.”
What are recurring charges? This could range from gym memberships to coffee subscriptions to even cable or streaming services, according to Rizzo. Maybe even cloud storage or food delivery programs?
“Subscription services, although by themselves seemingly insignificant, can add up to several thousand dollars a year. Reassess the value they bring and cancel services no longer being used,” says Rizzo. “Some business may also allow for a hold on services and fees as well.”
But one important thing to note: don’t hold off or cancel everything, especially when it comes to you or your loved one’s health.
“Have coverage for preventive care?” says Jolean Fleck, vice president of people and organizational development at Delta Dental of Arizona. “Use it. Even if you’re busy. Especially if you’re busy, in fact. Taking advantage of regular, routine health benefits that are already included in your medical or dental plans can actually save you thousands of dollars – and maybe your life – in the long term.”
For example, says Fleck, through routine screenings, dentists can detect diabetes and heart disease simply by looking in your mouth. During routine dental appointments, dentists will do a thorough exam to look for these conditions and will screen for such things as oral cancer or other irregularities with the goal of early detection.
“This can help lower medical costs by increasing treatment options and improving outcomes,” says Fleck.
Also, consider all options when it comes to care, especially if you are approaching 65.
“If you are 65 or older, now through December 7 is Medicare open enrollment. There are free counselors and companies available to help determine the best plan for you,” says David Luna, co-founder of Connie Health. “For example, if you are on a Medicare Supplement plan, switching to a Medicare Advantage PPO plan can potentially save you thousands of dollars on premiums and get you extra benefits not covered by Medicare alone such as Dental, Vision, Hearing and more. Some plans even offer gym memberships, prescription savings and more.”
There are a variety of additional resources available. Visit 211arizona.org or arizonatogether.org for resources from finding a food bank location to housing support.