Budgeting in a Time of Crisis

budgeting in a time of crisis

Right now, it feels like everything is changing. Perhaps you or someone in your family has been furloughed or laid off,  or you worry that it could happen soon. Rather than feel stressed or worried about your money, take action now now to take back control.

If you’ve lost your job, apply for unemployment right away through your state’s website. The CARES Act has introduced changes to unemployment insurance benefit and you could be eligible for an extra $600 weekly payment. The number of weeks you can claim benefit for has also increased. With so many people filing claims right now you’re likely to experience long wait times but hang in there. Once approved, your checks or direct deposit should arrive in a few weeks.

Differentiate between needs vs. wants

As a rule of thumb your most important needs usually include; housing, food, utilities, insurance, gas and a cell phone.

Your wants are pretty much everything else and should be cut. This includes things like cable TV, ordering take out, online shopping, gym memberships, subscription services, non-essential recurring payments. You’ll be surprised how much you can save by eliminating or at the very least reducing all of these.

Reducing the cost of “needs”

Although you can’t cut them entirely, you might be able to find savings even in essential payments. First, download the budgeting in a crisis spreadsheet to keep track of how much you could be saving. Now make a list of all your needs sorted by category and build a plan for making cuts to each. For example:

Cell phone

  • Review your plan and switch to a cheaper plan, or a new provider if your current provider is not prepared to negotiate.
  • See if you can save money by changing your behavior (maybe cut data usage and use home Wi-Fi) and use apps for calls.


  • Change to the most basic plan for your gas and electricity
  • Look for small savings – like opening the windows instead of using A/C – or adding a blanket on the bed if you’re cold.
  • Negotiate payment with your provider – some are suspending shutoffs or waiving late fees.


  • If you’re worried about mortgage or rent payments, talk to your landlord or mortgage provider to discuss payment relief.
  • Many financial service companies have a payment relief program for a range of loans (including mortgage, auto and credit card) which allow you to make special arrangements for an agreed time. Contact your mortgage or auto loan servicer (the company you pay each month), and the issuer of your credit card to begin the process.


  • Eliminate take-out entirely and plan your meals for the week before going to the grocery store.
  • Try to buy healthy yet less expensive food by purchasing own brand items rather than category leaders.
  • Batch cooking and freezing meals is also a great way to make food last longer. You can also look to local food banks to see how they can help you.
  • Check to see if your credit card provider offers you cashback for grocery store shopping.


  • Consider pausing payments to non-essential policies. If you’re still working this could be things like 401(k) investments or other retirement accounts.
  • Make sure you stay on top of key insurance though, like health or auto insurance, and other policies that are legally required. Reach out to your providers about any payment relief options if you’re struggling to make payments.

There may be other categories that you can think of, so add them to your list and follow the same approach. If making all these cuts starts to make you feel depressed, remember, this isn’t forever. And the action you take now will build your resilience for anything that comes along in the future.

Finally, having to make major changes unexpectedly can have a negative impact on your mental health. If you’d like to speak to someone about your situation consider a free financial counselor. You can find out more information about this here.

Article adapted from The onUp Movement: Taking Back Control: Budgeting In A Time Of Crisis.

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