COVID-19 and money: Five hacks for curing the financial blues

Budgeting experts from Good Shepherd and Taupo Budget Busters give their suggestions.
Budgeting experts from Good Shepherd and Taupo Budget Busters give their suggestions. Photo credit: GettyImages.

If the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions have left you with the financial blues, taking stock and using what you've already got is one of the best cures, experts say.

For some Kiwis, the August level 4 lockdown and alert level 3 and level 2 restrictions are creating an opportunity to stash extra cash. But for others, earning less and coping with increased family pressures means finances are stretched.

To help struggling Kiwis get back on their feet again, Newshub asked two budgeting experts to share their top five hacks for saving money.

1. Try a spending freeze

Aside from rent or mortgage costs, food is a big household expense.

Some Kiwi shoppers noticed grocery bills skyrocket after lockdown, commenting that cheaper brand products were out of stock and some items cost more.

Isobial Jackson, co-founder of Taupo Budget Busters, suggests trying a "spending freeze". Having set a goal not to buy groceries for a month (from August 18), Jackson says in the six weeks to September 29, she's spent $67.50 on food.

"The quickest way to save money is to use what you've got on hand," Jackson said.

Before starting a spending freeze, people need to know what they have in the fridge, freezer and pantry before they shop.

Meals are planned to use what they've already got.

"Instead of planning a menu based on what's on special, I looked at what I had first, made my menu plan, then made a small list to the side of what fresh items we might need to extend it," Jackson explained.

One tray of four chicken breasts used to feed four adults in one sitting, Jackson said. Now, it's divided in half and used for two meals. As meat is expensive, reducing portion sizes and padding them out with things like chickpeas and fresh veggies has saved her money.

Jackson's other tips are to shop online (to see the total before buying), to reduce supermarket visits to weekly (or less), and to shop early in the week to make the most of weekly specials.

2. Shop from your wardrobe

When boredom creeps in, it's easy to jump online and check out the latest trends and sales.
But rather than splurge on fast fashion, Nicola Eccleton, manager of social inclusion at Good Shepherd, a charity that helps people manage debt, suggests people shop from their own wardrobe first.

Having a "one in, one out rule" gets people thinking about what they're going to recycle or throw out before buying something new.

"Go and try on different things and see if you can find new combinations...anything you think you're not going to wear, photograph it and do a clothes swap (or sell it on Trade Me)," Eccleton suggested.

3. Try new things

As boredom can be a driving factor for spending money unnecessarily, the anecdote is to try new things that don't cost money.

It may be connecting with family and friends, using free services, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, learning a new skill online or setting a personal goal.

The 'Boredom Busters' section of the Netsafe website has some ideas.

4. Audit subscriptions

Many people have multiple subscriptions going out at different times during the month.  As they're paid by direct debit, it's easy not to notice them.

People often sign up because they're cheap - but small amounts add up, Eccleton said.

Checking the bank statement over a month will show how many payments are going out.

"[For example] are you subscribed to Neon, Disney Plus and Netflix...commit to having one subscription at one time," Eccleton suggests.

Some families take turns at sharing subscriptions. These are "padded out" with free services, such as TVNZ On Demand, ThreeNow, YouTube and library streaming services.

"Knowledge is soon as you start looking for things, you can start working out how to do things differently," Eccleton added.

5. Ask for help if needed

Asking for help can be difficult - but there's no shame in getting it when needed.

Here's a list of groups and organisations offering support with things like food parcels, budgeting, debt management and benefit eligibility.