With increasing uncertainty about how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last and when business will be able to safely open their doors again, many individuals have found themselves with limited or no income.
Tiffany Murray, program director for Red to Black peer financial coaching, said while they have always been trying to help students learn how to budget, they are now seeing changes for students who planned a budget for the rest of the semester.
Murray said regarding lack of resources and funds, it is essential to maximize the funds one does have.
“We're working with students to, you know, itemize their expenses and then also, as they do that and list all their expenses to also list that income to make sure that their income is greater than the expenses that are needed,” she said.
To assist this process, Murray said one of the most important things to do is to track expenses. Tracking can be done through budgeting apps, via Excel sheets or manually with pen and paper, but most importantly one should jot down all expenses they expect to be paid to make sure one has enough resources to make those payments.
If there are payments which cannot be met, Murray said the best advice to contact those bill creditors, companies or individuals who are owed money to let them know one has financial concerns or strains.
“Most bill creditors or people that you're paying bills to understand what the situation is and so it's best to reach out prior to the bill being due to speak with someone. Let them know what you're going through and maybe there's an opportunity to suspend a payment or defer payment or, you know, to potentially create a payment plan,” she said.
Murray said this pandemic has highlighted the need for students to have an emergency fund. If possible, she said trying to limit the purchases which can be limited at this time would be beneficial.
For those with the flexibility to do so, she said it is also important to make sure one is contributing some funds to a savings account because ultimately, there is no telling when this pandemic will end.
In finding ways to take less trips to the grocery store, Murray said doing so will not only help minimize grocery costs, but also may help in preventing a student being put in a situation where they must then think about how to pay medical bills due to exposure to COVID-19.
“While we don't want to hoard, if there's room in a student's budget when they do find a need to go out to a grocery store, we recommend that they think about buying a few items in bulk. And so, again, if they if there's possibility to extend that budget which may help to minimize their exposure to what's going on the virus, which may also ultimately assist with minimizing any unforeseen medical costs,” she said.
Before heading out to the grocery store for essentials, Murray said it is critical to thoroughly take into account everything in one’s pantry and use those items before purchasing anything else.
She said in addition to this, it can be helpful to plan out one’s meals for the coming weeks, taking into account pantry items and making a list of specific items needed at the store.
“There are also opportunities to save using coupons, so if you're able to be receiving those grocery or those items that you can coupon and save, that's helpful,” she said.
For those who have been laid off, Murray said there are resources available to help such as a CNN article which compiled a list of companies still looking to hire amid the pandemic. She said it can be valuable to make oneself available to this kind of information if they find themselves without necessary work.
For students who find themselves in a more comfortable position financially, Murray said it is crucial to prevent blowing all of one’s money on online shopping.
“Pay attention to the items that are necessary for you during this time and if you do that you can ensure that, you know, you’d be OK with your finances and the money that you have in your particular account,” she said.
Murray said it is also important for students remember it is OK to contact family and friends in their support system if they are needing help.
For students who still need help after contacting family and friends, Murray said Red to Black offers Raider Relief.
“We do also offer Raider Relief within the Red to Black organization for students who do have a great financial concern and don't have the ability to get any money from any family or friends,” she said.
For students with more specific questions and financial concerns, Murray said Red to Black is continuing to offer financial coaching sessions amid this pandemic.
“This provided a great opportunity for us to move online, so we're currently having all our client sessions online via Zoom and so if students are interested in meeting with us, they still can,” she said.