Managing My Finances in the Coronavirus Lockdown
It's spring 2020 and I should be travelling by train somewhere in the south of Italy, eating pasta and drinking prosecco. But in the last couple of months the world's been turned upside down because of a virus we'd never even heard of a year ago. And in these new times of coronavirus, I'm more excited getting hold of a supermarket online delivery slot than I was about booking a holiday.
We've had to learn a whole new vocabulary and a new way of life – from social distancing and flattening the curve to Zoom quiz nights and Clap for Carers. Our social and work lives have gone virtual and even time outside is being rationed. Coronavirus has also given us a whole new collection of things to worry about. As well as the big concerns about ourselves and our friends and families getting sick, finances have also become a big worry for many of us.
I've been blogging for almost 10 years and made a business out of travel, which is based on people planning and booking trips. But with travel bans taking holidays off the table at the moment, no one's going anywhere. My income has plummeted and I've no idea when things will get back to normal – and what the new version of normal is going to look like.
And it's not just bloggers and the travel industry who are being impacted, but a whole range of freelancers, self-employed people and small business owners who are having to work out what coronavirus means for their businesses. So what can we do to help make ourselves feel more secure at a time when there's so much uncertainty? Here's some of the ways I've been managing my finances during the coronavirus lockdown.
Cut Down on Expenses
One of the benefits of lockdown life is that it's harder to spend money – there won't be any meals or drinks out, shopping trips or holidays for a while. And there's been a huge boost in freebies being offered, from online workouts and theatre performances to apps and audiobooks. I've been getting my travel fix with virtual tours and learning a new language with Duolingo.
Shopping around for the best-value suppliers for household bills is one of those things which tends to lurk on the 'to do' list. But having more time at home's a good opportunity to look at what you're paying and whether you can save. Some companies are being more cautious but there are still good deals around – I've managed to cut my gas and electricity costs from £46 to £39 a month and my mortgage from £520 to £440 by signing up for new fixed deals.
Being self-employed usually means having a pretty erratic income – and a lot of chasing invoices – so creating a proper budget can be difficult. But having a basic spreadsheet with all your fixed expenses listed does help give you a better idea what the minimum you need to earn to live off is. And if I earn any more then I've been putting the extra into a savings account so I can use that to top up my income in the leaner months.
It's also worth double checking all your standing orders and direct debits to make sure you're not paying for things you're not using, like gym or cinema memberships. A lot of companies will let you 'pause' subscriptions for a few months – I've got a wine club membership that I've been able to put on hold. And if you're worried about paying your bills, three-month payment holidays are available for many mortgages, credit cards and loans, to take the pressure off in the short-term.
Apply for Support
Many employed people are eligible to be 'furloughed' by their company if they can't work. And if you're self-employed the government is setting up a Self-Employed Income Support Scheme – a taxable grant of 80% of your monthly profits up to £2,500. I've been self-employed for nine years so will be eligible for the scheme, but if you've newly self-employed, a company director or earn over the limit of £50,000 you won't be included. There are other options like Universal Credit and business loans that you might be entitled to – and the July 2020 income tax payments have been postponed until January 2021, which takes some pressure off.
Develop Extra Income Streams
Working in a new industry like blogging means getting used to things constantly changing, which is a bonus when it comes to adapting in a crisis. With the travel blogging industry in hibernation, there've been lots of bloggers taking on new projects – ebooks, online teaching, selling photos, freelance writing or starting new blogs in different subjects.
Other people have gone back to old jobs or started new ones. I work as a freelance editor and proofreader alongside my blog so I still have some non-travel clients I'm doing some work for. It's not a great time to be job hunting, but there are a few opportunities around, especially for temporary work in industries like supermarkets and mail-order companies where demand's really soared since lockdown.
Finding Out More
With so much stress and uncertainty at the moment, taking a bit of time to look at your finances can help you feel more in control. The coronavirus situation's changing so fast that it's really important to get the most up-to-date information. As well as the official government website, some of my go-to resources are the Money Saving Expert and the Money Advice Service sites.