Save money during the pandemic with these tech-savvy solutions
Staying home has its upsides.
It’s bad enough that we’ll most likely be stuck in and around our homes for the year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has also put many folks in a tough financial spot. Whether you’ve lost your job or had your hours cut, your bank account may be a little more starved than usual.
But other than all the nights out you’re not having, there are some savings opportunities that may not have crossed your mind and are possible mainly because you aren’t going anywhere.
Cut back on your car insurance
If you’re one of the lucky folks able to work from home right now, your car is probably sitting in the garage more often than it used to. This, by default, is probably saving you money on gas, but if you’re still paying the same insurance premium, you’re spending unnecessary money on something you rarely need.
Some insurers now offer pay-per-mile programs, where you can use a mobile app or other tracking mechanisms to pay only for the miles you drive, rather than a flat monthly rate. Allstate has Milewise, Nationwide has SmartMiles, and Metromile is a newcomer focused on this type of product. You may also find companies offering discounts for safe driving if you install their tracking app, which monitors your speed and how hard you brake, among other things.
If your insurance company doesn’t offer this option, or you aren’t comfortable with them tracking every touch of the brake pedal, just give them a call. My insurer was already providing its customers some pandemic-related discounts, but I also discovered my rate was based on a much higher amount of driving than I’ve actually been doing lately. By giving them an estimate of my current driving habits—I didn’t even have to provide documents or data—I was able to lower my premium by a significant amount. When I’m back to driving every day, I can call them again and bump it back up.
Just make sure you’re still caring for your car and using it occasionally, even if you have nowhere to go.
Go digital with your exercise subscription
My family is a longtime member of our local YMCA, but you won’t find us using the gym anytime soon, so we decided to suspend our subscription and look for at-home alternatives. While some are just as pricey (I’m looking at you, Peloton), other options are much cheaper, and even though they’re not a gym, they’ll do in a pinch.
For example, my wife is doing pilates multiple times a day over video with an instructor here in California for $16 per month, while I bought some bodyweight workout gear to exercise in my office during remote working breaks. And, of course, there’s always running and biking outside, which was a great idea even before the pandemic made gyms untenable.
Between fitness tracking apps, workouts on your smart TV, and yes, even TikTok, there are plenty of digital-friendly ways to help you stay fit during this health crisis, and for a lot less than a typical gym. If you need inspiration, check out Popular Science’s Muscle Month for a ton of pandemic-friendly workout ideas.
Skip grocery delivery and do free (or cheap) pickup
When the pandemic first hit, getting groceries felt like the week’s biggest challenge, and for everyone who stayed home, booking a grocery pickup time slot was basically winning the lottery. Instead of trying our luck, many of us turned to third-party grocery delivery services, willing to pay extra money to stay safe and avoid the crowds. But between fees and tips, and considering how often you need to re-stuff your fridge with fresh produce, delivery is likely to make a whole new dent in your monthly budget.
Now that the mad rush for toilet paper is over, grocery stores have plenty of pickup times available again, and you may find it even cheaper than before. Ralph’s (or Kroger, for you East-Coasters) usually charges $8 for pickup, but has started to offer it for free. While this gives the store a huge leg up over delivery services, it benefits customers too. Other retailers are following suit, and the process is similar across the board—you can do all your shopping right from the store’s app, complete with weekly ads, coupons to clip, and substitution options if your desired item isn’t in stock.
If you haven’t checked pickup availability for your favorite store, now might be the time to switch away from delivery—it’s easily the most time- and cost-effective way to get your groceries. Besides, using an app to get your groceries might help you make healthier choices, too.
Get credit card points you’ll actually use
I love the feeling of racking up credit card points, then using them on a free flight home to see my family. And typically, airline miles are the most efficient rewards around, netting you more value per point than most cash-back and other types of cards. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself getting on a plane anytime soon, so all those points are just sitting there.
Log into your credit card issuer’s app and see what other ways you might be able to redeem those points. Some cards—even those focused on travel—may allow you to trade them in for cash back, or for shopping on places like Amazon. You might not rack up as much in the long term, but if you’re short on cash, it’s probably worth getting money you can use now rather than waiting to use miles a year or two down the line.
Make sure you’re making the most of whatever points you redeem, though—check out our guide to credit card points for more tips.
Audit your other bills
If you’re starting to see a pattern here, it’s because there is one: pull out the ol’ budget spreadsheet and look at all your regular expenses, noting which ones may be less relevant due to the quarantine.
If you’re always on Wi-Fi, knock your cellphone bill back to the lowest data tier. If you aren’t working at coffee shops anymore, maybe that VPN subscription can be put on pause (or even canceled) for the time being. And for heaven’s sake, get to know your electric company’s time-of-use plans—you may not have worried about off-peak hours much when you were at the office all day, but now that you’re home using more electricity, it may behoove you to schedule the dishwasher, air conditioning, and other appliances for specific times when the rates are lower.
Every little bit counts, and you might be surprised how quickly all those savings add up.