by Jenny Smedra
In these times of love and COVID-19, we all have to adapt to the realities of a world that is rapidly changing. The pandemic and ensuing economic recession have impacted us all differently. For some it means reduced hours and lower income. Others may find themselves out of work entirely due to less demand for goods and services. For me, it means adjusting to living on a limited budget. When the virus first began to spread in January 2020, I found myself in an unusual predicament. I was living and working full-time in a foreign country. My lifestyle came with its own set of obstacles. However, nothing could have completely prepared me for how my life was going to change.
The Struggles of Living Abroad
The country of Taiwan arguably had one of the best initial containment responses to the coronavirus. They immediately closed the borders and began tracking every case and contact among its citizen. Beyond stricter public health measures, life continued with minimal interruptions. Although international travel was restricted, I had a steady source of income and job security. I was even fielding several new job offers with inflated salaries. Foreign teachers were in high demand simply because no new English teachers could legally enter and work in Taiwan. However, my dad’s health was failing and my family needed support at home.
Despite the temptation to stay and earn more money, I chose to leave my safe haven and come home to be closer to the ones I loved. Unfortunately, coming home meant that I would need to find a way to support myself financially. Although I had been a teacher abroad, I did not want to expose my family by working in the public school system. As I prepared for the next chapter of my life, I started to look at online opportunities that were available to me. I had done some freelance writing during college to pay the bills, so I decided to try my hand at it once again.
Adjusting to Life on a Limited Budget
After getting in touch with some of my contacts in the writing community, I was able to land a few clients. I was grateful not to have to return to a life of unemployment as I started the next chapter of my life back in America. Even though I was fortunate to have a steady source of income, it was a drastic reduction to what I had grown accustomed to in Taiwan. English teachers there are paid very well, so I was used to having large amounts of disposable income. However, that was all about to change.
As a freelance writer just re-establishing myself, I was low man on the totem pole. Rather than having recruiters seek me out, I was competing with hundreds of other writers for the same online jobs. Although I was able to find work, I was barely scraping by those first few months. I cut out every creature comfort that was not absolutely essential to live below my means.
Lucky for me, social distancing measures made living on a limited budget easier. Since I was no longer going out with friends and family, I spent less money on entertainment. Staying home proved a huge relief on my tightly-stretched budget. Yet, I still allow myself small indulgences to stave off the depression as quarantine procedures persist.
Life Hacks to Living on a Limited Budget
Living on a limited budget has taught me how to tighten the financial belt. Although it does require some sacrifice, it is not all painful. For example, I started using cash instead of swiping my plastic or ordering online. Having a finite amount of money made it easier to track how much I spent each month. I became more aware of my habits and wasteful expenses. Furthermore, I taught myself to distinguish between wants and needs. I learned that if I didn’t have the cash in hand to buy something, I probably didn’t really need it. Here are a few more hacks I have learned while adjusting to life in a lower income bracket.
Looking for Discounts
While this may seem obvious, I always shop around for discounts. When I have to make a large purchase, I spend time researching and comparing prices before shelling out the cash for it. Coupons, offer codes, and seasonal sales have also helped me save a bundle. Shopping around for discounts lets me enjoy the occasional splurge without the guilt of paying full price.
Cooking at home
You can save a ton of money if you stop eating out and spend more time cooking at home. Not only is it cheaper, but also it is often healthier to cook for yourself. Staying home can provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and spend meaningful time together.
Eliminating Membership Fees
Additionally, you can cancel expensive memberships you do not utilize. I started working out at home and eliminated monthly health club fees. Even though I miss my afternoon laps in the pool, avoiding public places mean less risk of exposure. However, you don’t have to give up all your memberships. Ask friends and families to share the costs for streaming services and discount buying clubs for groceries. Thanks to this tip, I still get to enjoy the perks without shouldering all the financial responsibility.
During the lean times, I have learned to love buying second-hand. The local thrift stores have supplied the majority of my wardrobe. Many second-hand stores have high quality clothing for next to nothing. I have even been lucky enough to find some items that still have the tags on them.
Cell Phone Services
Another way I have saved a ton of money is through my cell phone provider. I decided against signing a contract and opted for prepaid phone services. I only pay for data, call, and text messages. Furthermore, I’m not locked into contracts and overage fees should I choose to change plans or providers. Prepaid services give me more freedom for about half the cost of what I was previously was paying.
What I’ve Learned Living on a Limited Budget
There is no doubt that life is more difficult when money is tight. As I have eliminated the excess from my life, one thing has become very clear. I have been very fortunate in the past and had more than I have ever needed to survive. While the transition period has been uncomfortable, humans are adaptable. My solution to riding out these rough waters has been making a plan. In this case, my plan was a bare bones budget.
Platforms to Help Budget Money
Budgeting can be easy with an app. Here are some apps that provide this service.
|Platforms||Fees and Minimum||Best for|
|Personal Capital||Free||Monitoring wealth and spending|
|Simplifi||Free||Manage money everywhere|
|YNAB||$84 a year or $11.99 a month (after a 34-day free trial), free for students for 12 months.||Personal budget tracking|
- Budget Help
- 7 Ways to Change Your Thinking About Budgeting
- Tips to reduce the expenses you can’t fully avoid
Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.