11 ways to save money every day

If the COVID-19 crisis has you strapped for cash, there are ways you can get your finances in order right now.

Dori Zinn Contributing Writer
Dori Zinn loves helping people learn and understand money. She's been covering personal finance for a decade and her writing has appeared in Wirecutter, Credit Karma, Huffington Post and more.
Dori Zinn
6 min read
Angela Lang/CNET

The coronavirus crisis has millions of Americans out of work and strapped for cash. And even if you do have a job, you might either be experiencing reduced hours or furlough, or a temporary, unpaid leave from work. 

Regardless of your work situation, you might need to get your finances in order to make it through this pandemic. Here are 11 ways to save money every day, for every situation.

Read more: The best ways to use your $1,200 coronavirus stimulus check

1. Set up a budget

If you don't have a budget, now is the time to start one. Your budget is your financial lifeline (and for some people, their literal one). First, list every income source you have. This could be your day job, side-hustle, government benefits or unemployment. 

Then detail all your expenses, like your home payment, car loan, insurance, utility payments and anything that's a mandatory requirement every month. Gas and groceries should also be included, even though they don't have a set payment. 

Create line-item budgets for each category. Some are easy. For instance, you probably pay the same in rent or a mortgage payment every month. But others might fluctuate, like food and gas. Give it a realistic estimate and check back every couple of weeks to check your status. If you were way off, make the necessary adjustments. 

Budgets are a growing, living document. They aren't a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Review yours as often as you need to. Make sure you aren't over-spending and all your money is going where it needs to. The more you check in on your budget, the more you'll be able to check your financial stability.

2. Get a budgeting app

You can use a pen and paper or a spreadsheet to track your budget, but you could also get a budgeting app.

Budgeting apps usually sync with your bank, credit card, savings and loan accounts to track your spending and income. You can set budgets for each category, whether it's your car loan or your home supplies. Budgeting apps are made to keep you organized and alert you in case your spending is getting close to maxing out. If you go over budget, the app will tell you so. Budgeting apps are a good idea if you need extra help managing your finances. 

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3. Lower your electricity bill

Your electricity bill is directly related to your usage. Even if you're at home more, you can still save on your electricity bill.

If you're following stay-at-home orders, chances are the air conditioning might be on more than if you were at work. Instead of keeping your A/C running, switch it off and open the windows instead. Also, keep those ceiling fans going; they use less energy than air conditioners.

You can also switch to LED lightbulbs, install a dimmer and use motion sensors so lights and air kick on only when someone enters a room. 

Read more: How to lower your water bill

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4. Lower your internet bill

With remote and work-from-home options more popular than ever, the internet is one of the most important utilities you'll use. 

To lower your internet bill, start by reviewing it. Check your data usage, speed and how many devices are on your plan. If you can't lower your speed, consider ditching a few devices from your plan. Try bundling with other services -- like cell phones or cable TV -- to catch a discount. Also look into competing offers. Ask your current provider if they'll match a competitor. If they don't, it might be time to switch providers.

You can also follow these steps to negotiate your phone bill.

5. Lower your mortgage payments

The Fed rate is closely tied to the 10-year Treasury yields, which mortgage interest rates are based on. When the Fed rate drops, interest rates usually drop soon after.

Refinancing your mortgage could get you a lower interest rate and monthly bill. As long as your credit score is in decent shape and you've got the extra cash on hand to cover closing costs again, refinancing might be a good idea. 

Other ways to lower home payments:

  • Ditch PMI: Private mortgage insurance is made to cover your mortgage lender in the event you can't pay your mortgage. But it goes away after you've hit 20% equity in your home. If you have, call to get it removed from your bill.
  • Review your home insurance: Increase your deductible, make home improvements around your home or see if you can bundle your policy with your auto insurance to save. Also compare costs from other insurance providers to see if it's time to switch.

6. Save on auto bills

If you've already bundled your home and auto insurance, there are other ways to save when it comes to car-related costs.

If you're behind on your car payment because of the COVID-19 crisis, you can contact your lender about alternative payment options. Many lenders don't want to repossess your car or even institute late fees. Ask what financial hardship programs are available. Some have deferment options. 

For car insurance, increase your deductible or see if you qualify for a lower rate for being a good driver. Shop around for rates and see if your provider will match competing offers. If not, consider switching providers to save monthly costs.

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7. Set up a retirement fund

If you don't have a work-sponsored retirement account, you might need to get an IRA. You can use a robo-advisor to set up a retirement account and manage your money for you. 

The best robo-advisors have minimum opening account requirements, few fees and if necessary, access to financial experts to answer your money questions. Robo-advisors are best for people who want to invest in their retirement but don't want to actively manage their portfolios. 

8. Switch credit cards

The coronavirus outbreak may mean your credit card usage is up. If you're carrying a balance month-to-month, you may face interest charges on top of your monthly payment. 

Extra interest charges can cause you to fall even further behind on your credit card bills, which means it might be time to make a switch. Look for credit cards that offer a 0% introductory APR. Transfer your credit card balance and pay it off without racking up interest charges. Many introductory offers expire -- usually sometime between 12 and 21 months. After that, interest charges will start to add up if you don't pay your bill off every month.

Not all balance transfers will move over your entire credit card balance. You might end up paying off your new interest-free credit card along with your old card at the same time. Give priority to the card with interest first while still making the minimum payment on the others. Make sure you've got the best credit card for your needs.

Read moreThe best cash-back credit cards

9. Automate your accounts

You can set up autopay for nearly every bill or payment you have. This goes for your ongoing subscriptions, phone payments and savings.

Autopay not only ensures you're paying your bills on time, some lenders reward good behavior with a discount. Some phone providers will give you a dollar amount or percentage off your bill every month with autopay. If you have student loans, some lenders offer a percentage discount with autopay. Ask your providers or lenders if they have one and what you qualify for.

10. Cancel unused subscriptions

In another life, you might have had a beauty box, a coffee box and a wine box all show up at various times throughout the month. But in quarantine life, you might need to start cutting down on those extras. 

If you're still using monthly subscription services and find them useful, by all means keep them. But if the boxes are stacking up, it might be time to cancel your subscriptions. Or, at the very least, pause payments until you find a use for them.

11. Get into meal prep

Your food budget might be the easiest budget line item to lower. If need be, lessen (or eliminate!) your takeout spending and opt for more home-made meals. This alone could save you a bundle.

But if you just buy a bunch of ingredients without having a plan, you could still waste money. The average American household throws away about 30% of the food it buys. Collectively, we're throwing away $240 billion annually. If you can set up a plan for what you're going to eat for the next few days or a week, you can map out exactly what you need to buy at the grocery store. It lowers your chances of impulse buys and throwing away food you never get around to eating.

Read more21 cheap and easy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner

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