COVID-19 has changed the way everyone’s lives work, with lockdowns keeping us indoors and keeping businesses shut.
For those of us looking to save money, either to buy a property or to put towards another major life event, the pandemic has had a big impact on how we’re saving. It’s also given us an insight into what we can do to save even more.
What are we saving on?
Under normal circumstances, many of the ways in which we spend money come from our everyday lives. Small, often unavoidable, daily spends can add up over time. However, since everyday life has been interrupted, many of us have found ourselves saving money on things we wouldn’t have been able to in the past. In fact, 85% of UK adults have spent less money during the national lockdowns, according to AA Financial Services.
Since the pandemic began, many businesses have moved to a work-from-home model. This means anyone who travelled into work, either via public transport or in their own vehicle, is saving on their travel costs, whether that be on travel passes or petrol. They’re also likely to be saving on those lunch or snack spends near the office. This is particularly true in areas such as London, where cafes and delis that relied on custom from commuters have all but shut down.
Recreation has also been severely impacted. After work trips to the pub, family meals out and events with friends might have been frequent weekly treats, but with the hospitality industry almost completely shut down, we are now spending a lot less. Money spent on non-essential shopping has also decreased, as we aren’t able to physically visit shops and buy things that we don’t really need.
Even with many people on the furlough scheme, receiving 80% of their usual salary from the government, the lack of things to spend money on means that many are still seeing an increase in their monthly income.
The obvious omission here is those who have lost their jobs, or have been excluded from support, and have been receiving little-to-no income during the pandemic. The money saved on everyday life might help to ease their financial worries, but certain outgoings (rent/mortgage/heat/food) can’t be avoided. The pandemic has therefore sadly made life a lot harder for people in this situation and saving for a new home may be off the cards, at least for the time being, while they look for work and try to financially recover.
However, whether you’re working, furloughed or looking for work, there are some ways you may be able to boost your savings and keep on track with your homebuying goal.
What can we do to boost these savings?
Though there are many ways in which we are saving money in a pandemic without trying, there are still things we can do to save even more.
Being stuck at home constantly can be boring, so it’s not surprising that many of us look for ways to bring excitement into our lives. Many people have resorted to using online shopping to make purchases, having that delivery be the spark that lights up their day. In fact between February and November 2020, internet sales in the UK, as a percentage of all retail sales, rose from 19% to 36%, according to The Office for National Statistics
But while it’s important to find ways to look after your mental health and stay positive, spending too much money on online purchases can make a real dent in your savings. Before making a purchase, consider its price and whether you really need it at this point. Is it something you’ll use, or is it an emotional purchase? Could that money be put to better use?
Also be aware of buying items on credit or using buy-now-pay-later offers. Whilst it can be tempting, if you are trying to save or living on a reduced income, those payments can really build up. It can also do damage to your credit rating if you miss a payment.
One of the major ways people have kept themselves entertained during the lockdown is by using subscription streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. There are also things like Audible, Spotify and Kindle Unlimited, along with any fitness classes you’re paying to stream. You might be surprised by how many streaming subscriptions you have.
While all these services provide you with a library of content to enjoy while you’re stuck at home, they come at a cost. Subscribing to multiple services makes this sum even larger. For this reason, it can be helpful to try and cut back on which services you are using, especially if your income is reduced. Decide what you could live without and terminate your subscription for as many streaming services as you can. You could even switch between services on a monthly basis, unsubscribing from one as you subscribe to another, to even out your monthly spend. You might also find that by going through the process of unsubscribing, some services will offer a reduced price for a certain number of months as an incentive to stay with them.
Bear in mind as well that if you’ve been sharing your account with friends or family for years, maybe they’ll be happy to take over the payment for a while?
Though we no longer have to travel for work, and non-essential travel is frowned upon, many people still like to go out for walks, exercise or just go to the supermarket to have something to do. Wanting to leave the house is understandable, and walking and exercising are great for keeping healthy, which is particularly important during this time.
The problem comes when you start to drive or travel on public transport further than you need to, or use it as an excuse to spend more money. Do you need to pop into the corner shop for snacks or get a takeaway coffee while you’re on your walk? Do you need to drive miles to get to a park, rather than just walking around your local streets? Saving whatever money you can on travel and outings might add up in a big way further down the line.
If you find you’re not using your car at all, now might be a good time to sell it If you think you will need your car in the future, some companies are actually offering the option to pause your insurance cover if you are not using your car at the moment, so it’s worth checking if your insurance has this option.
Though restaurants, bars and cafes are closed right now, many are still open for takeaways. Just like under normal circumstances, takeaways can often end up being more expensive than cooking for yourself. Many small businesses do need help staying afloat right now, and takeaways can support them, so it’s helpful to the economy to not give them up completely. It’s also another way of treating yourself if life is feeling a little lacking in joy right now.
But if you are looking to boost your savings, it’s important to prioritise cheaper home-cooked meals on most days – take the time to go through your apps and add up how much you’ve spent on takeaways over the month. Then adjust accordingly.
What should we spend on?
With all the saving you’re doing, you will likely find yourself with more money going spare than usual. Here’s what you can do to make the most of the boost to your finances.
If you already have a specific savings account like an ISA open, your first port of call should be to move some of your extra funds into this account so that you don’t spend it and it can gather interest. Whilst interest rates are incredibly low right now, if you’re planning to save for your first home, you could consider a Lifetime ISA, which gives you a 25% government bonus on whatever you pay in.
Learn more about the Lifetime ISA
Having outstanding debts when trying to get a mortgage can make the process more difficult than it needs to be. If you have any debts, such as loans or credit cards that you haven’t paid off, using the extra money towards them can put you in a better position going forward. Start with anything where you’re paying interest, and if you pay off the credit card and don’t need it, consider closing the account. This can help your credit score.
Depending on where you’ve ended up in lockdown, you might find yourself saving on rent and bills. Whether you’ve moved back to support parents, or are sharing with friends, it’s worth considering if you could save more. With working from home becoming so normalised, rents are starting to drop in certain commuter locations, because people have become untethered from their commute. If you are renting, it’s worth considering if you can get more for your money elsewhere, or if your landlord is open to negotiation on price if you’re renewing.
Though we don’t know how long this pandemic will continue to have an impact on our lives, we do know that it is temporary.
When life allows for more meet ups with friends, events and outings, holidays and meals, you’re likely going to want to take part in everything and enjoy – after all you’ve been missing out for quite a while now! When you do start spending socially again, it will be easy to spend more than you expect – keeping an eye on your budget and set up an amount that is sent straight to savings to keep making the most of the saving you’ve done in lockdown. You can read our savings guides to help you continue to pinch those pennies: