Managing money in uncertain times: practical tips on how to reduce spending and diversify your income

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Lauren Geall
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The coronavirus pandemic has left many of us facing financial uncertainty – here’s what you can do about it, according to a personal finance expert.

As lockdown eases and we begin to look forward to a life after coronavirus, a growing number of people are facing significant financial uncertainty.

Whether you’ve had to shut down your business, been made redundant from your job or have been placed on furlough, dealing with such a sudden reduction in income is incredibly stressful. 

And with the furlough scheme coming to an end in October and the economy continuing to suffer as a result of coronavirus, the threat of redundancy and a recession can make the situation even harder to handle.

If you’re having money problems right now – or are facing significant financial uncertainty over the coming months – it’s important to understand that you are not alone. It’s completely normal to experience anxiety, low mood and feelings of anger as you try to navigate the situation. 

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One of the main problems people often face when they’re dealing with money problems is the lack of control they feel. So on top of taking care of your mental health while you’re facing financial uncertainty, it can also be reassuring to take steps to manage your finances and make a longterm plan.

With this in mind, we asked Bukiie Smart, author of The ABCs of Personal Finance and founder and editor of Save Spend Invest, a personal finance platform helping millennials learn to manage their money, for her expert advice. From practical steps you can take in the short term to how to diversify your income, here’s what she had to say.

What short term action can you take to mitigate the impact of redundancy or loss of income?

A woman worried about money during the coronavirus pandemic
Dealing with financial uncertainty: in the short term, make sure you're cutting your expenses and looking for ways to diversify your income.

Smart explains that there are two steps you should take in the short term if you’re facing money problems: cut your expenses, and focus on alternative ways to make an income.

“Focus on cutting expenses ruthlessly,” Smart says. “Look at your bank account and assess where your money is being spent on and if they are essentials. You are in survival mode, at least for the short term, so you need to think like that.

“Look at your subscriptions in particular, what are you being debited for that you could really do without? Can you remove your Spotify subscription for example, and live with the ads? Can you cancel Amazon Prime and use a friend’s account? Remember this is only temporary, but your focus is to save as much money as possible. Cash is king so look for it and save, save, save!”

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Smart continues: “If you need more money to be able to stay afloat, look at alternative ways to make an income. Think about what your skills are and how you can monetise them. It may be as easy as being great with social media or copywriting. If you’re good at coding or designing websites, you could sell your services on sites like Upwork or Fiverr. Better still, you can promote yourself through your friends and ask them if they know someone who needs your skills.

“If you don’t have skills you can immediately monetise, try taking a few courses on something in demand, for example, digital marketing or website building, and once you know your stuff, find people who don’t know it and will pay you for it. The goal here is not to be an ‘expert’ but to be someone who knows more things on a particular subject than another person (i.e. you’re rich with knowledge). Then go out and look for those people.”

Should you take out a loan?

When you’re facing money problems, it’s sometimes necessary to take out a loan to cover expenses. But is this a good idea? And what impact could this have on your finances in the future?

“You should reassess your financial plan currently and within the next 6-12 months before deciding on things such as taking a loan,” Smart explains. “It may seem like the easiest option, but it’s certainly not the cheapest and it may actually affect you in the longer term (think about if you were going to buy a property within 12 months from now, for example). Some of these things will leave a bad imprint on your credit score so think carefully about you really need.

“Don’t jump quickly into things everyone is doing like taking loans or payment breaks if you don’t really need them. If you do need them, make a plan on how you want to repay the lenders and break down how that might affect your current lifestyle.”

What safeguarding steps can you take to protect yourself against financial uncertainty in the future?

If you’re worried about losing your job in the future – for example, in October, when the furlough scheme ends – or simply want to protect yourself against the impact of a recession, it’s a good idea to take some precautionary steps.

For Smart, there are four key things you can do to protect yourself against financial uncertainty: diversify your income, cut down expenses, build an emergency fund and look for ways to save:

Diversify your income: “The days of having and relying on only one source of income are long gone,” Smart says. “You may have a job today, but it doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow. Therefore, increase your income sources. Create a course and sell it. Be a social media consultant. Get hired as an online events curator. Whatever it is, find more ways to sell your services and skills. Your future self will thank you.”

Cut down expenses: “Strip back expenses and non-essentials as far as possible,” Smart recommends. “Create a detailed budget on where exactly your income is going to, and stick to it ruthlessly.”

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Build an emergency fund:Save an emergency fund and think about putting a pause on other financial goals such as investing,” Smart advises. “Remember that cash is king in an economic downturn so you should only be investing if you have a surplus amount of cash, should you ever need it.”

Look for ways to save: “Get aggressive with finding more ways to save,” Smart says. “Renegotiate your utilities and bills – everything from gas and electricity to insurance to phone bills. Move to providers who may offer discounts to first-timers if need be.”

What are your three top tips for people worrying about money right now?

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Dealing with financial uncertainty: make sure to give yourself breaks and take your mind off money when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Whether you’re dealing with money problems, facing financial uncertainty or simply feel overwhelmed by the economic situation right now, these tips should help you to feel more in control.

1. Try not to panic: “Count with me. 1, 2, 3, inhale … 1,2,3 exhale. Breathe,” Smart says. “We are all in a state of chaos, but you should not panic even if you think everything is coming crashing down. Allowing your mind to be free may be exactly what you need to think about new strategies to make an additional source of income or to cut costs.”

2. Give yourself a break: “Do things that take your mind off your money problems,” Smart recommends. “It’s important that you don’t let yourself spiral into a state of sadness or depression which money problems usually cause. So to combat this, do fun activities like painting, get on the phone to your family and friends and maybe even binge-watch your favourite TV show. Staring and panicking about the problem won’t make it go away but taking a break from it might give you fresh eyes and perspective.

3. Make a plan: “If you still have a job, that’s great – but you should still make a plan to save as much as possible over the next few months,” Smart says. “Ask yourself what the most important next step for you is. Is it calling your bills provider to negotiate a different plan? Is it sitting down to write a short e-book on marketing you can sell on social media? What’s your immediate next step - that’s what you should focus on right now. Then make a plan on the other steps that follow.”

For more information, useful tips and daily motivation, follow @savespendinvest on Instagram or visit the Save Spend Invest website.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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