Stores are closed, many offices are allowing people to work remotely, and most of us are cocooned at home watching 18 hours of Netflix. Life has changed drastically thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many states have imposed Safer at Home orders encouraging people to stay home and follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. During this time of financial uncertainty, you can still take steps to improve your financial health. 

Freeze in-person memberships 

Since in-person activities aren’t an option now, it’s a great time to pause your gym memberships or your club dues. Why pay for the gym or your favorite barre membership when you can’t use the facilities? Now is the time to check out Peloton’s free app trial which offers a variety of no-equipment workouts or find a new workout routine for free on Youtube. Make sure you don’t outright cancel your membership since most gyms have initiation fees. Give your gym a call to see what options they’re offering.

Call your insurance companies

Most cars are sitting idle right now and traffic is down by 50 percent, according to a report by analytics company, Inrix. Many car insurance companies are offering rebates or payment plans for those who take the time to ask. Although it may be tempting to let your car insurance lapse during the pandemic, experts recommend deferring payment rather than cancelling outright to avoid legal penalties or fines.

Call your cell phone and internet providers

While you’re on the phone negotiating your rates, call up your cell phone or internet providers to see if relief or free upgrades are available. Other options to consider, according to CNET, are bundling your cell and internet service, reducing your internet speed, or shopping around for less expensive internet providers. There’s always the option of getting to know your neighbor, from a safe distance of six feet, and using a WiFi extender to share their internet connection.

Cancel your subscriptions 

Check your autopay settings and see which subscriptions you can trim from your monthly budget. TV, music, and ebooks all seem like essentials since everyone is sheltering in place right now but make sure you’re smart about your subscriptions. Now is the time to make the choice between Netflix and Hulu, Pandora and Spotify. Read e-books for free from Project Gutenberg or stream shows and movies using the power of your library on Hoopla Digital or Kanopy

Embrace home-cooking

Takeout is tempting, especially after months of restaurant closures but you can pad your savings by spending a little more time in the kitchen. Take the time you would’ve spent commuting getting to know your pantry and cooking meals from scratch. According to Pro Money Savings, a restaurant meal costs around $20 and a homemade meal totals around $4.50 per serving. If you’re not ready to go full Julia Child, opt-for meal kits or rely on Trader Joe’s ever-popular semi-homemade options. 

Grow your own food

Start your own windowsill, patio, or container garden to supplement your grocery budget. Studies suggest that plants can lift your spirits and even the easiest-to-grow herbs can add zing to your meals. Gardening takes both patience and practice but now can be the best time to start a new hobby. Bring back the “victory garden” and become a little more self-sufficient with these tips on how to get started with a small-space garden

Look into student loan options

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is aimed to help people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. One part of that act is to place automatic student loan payments on forbearance until September 2020. Other parts of the CARES Act include individual relief and small business funds. Some states and cities are also providing additional relief. 

Evaluate investments

While experts debate whether or not the current economic conditions are a depression, recession, or both; now is an ideal time to take a hard look at your savings and investments. Use your extra savings to make long term investments or take a cautious dip into the stock market. Many banks offer virtual consultations or online investment tools to help you get started.

Take advantage of cash back deals

Many credit cards offer cash back deals for spending in specific categories like gas stations or grocery stores. Some banks also offer similar rewards for maintaining a certain balance in your account. Invest your rewards back into your savings account, apply them to your credit card bill, or funnel them into a retirement account or savings fund. Shop around and compare the cards that make the most sense for your lifestyle and budget. 

Apply for aid, if needed 

Unemployment numbers continue to climb and federal and state governments are working to catch up by providing aid and relief to those in need. As of May 14, 36.5 million people lost their jobs since the beginning of March. Unemployment benefits and rent forgiveness are among the programs that those in need can access. Check with your city government to see what options are available. 

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