Social distancing has meant cancelled trips, DIY dinners and spending all your nights at home. The silver lining in all this is that should mean you’re automatically saving money. But if you’re curious why your spending hasn't shrunk as much as you’d like, it’s probably because you’re shelling out more than you think in certain areas that aren’t as noticeable. Below are some common spending traps to avoid while social distancing and tips for how to do it.
- THE OVERPACKED CART
We’ve all seen the empty grocery store shelves. While it’s understandable to want to be prepared during these times — especially when you’re trying to shop less frequently — overstocking essentials can lead to supply shortages, make it more difficult for others to get what they need and take a pinch out of your wallet.
Before going to the store, first take inventory of what you already have at home and what you could stand to share with your family or neighbors. Then you can determine what you truly need to replenish, which helps prevent panic buying and overspending, says millennial financial coach Dasha Kennedy.
Planning ahead also means you don’t end up wasting food. “If you’re shopping only once a week and buy too much, some of the stuff is going to rot or go bad,” says consumer shopping expert Lisa Lee Freeman. “You have to be mindful about what’s realistic.”
Choose fresh fruits and veggies that have a longer shelf life, such as apples instead of berries. Freezing food can be a good option, too, but be mindful of what you'll actually take the time to thaw out and how much space you have in your freezer before loading up your cart — otherwise, you might end up throwing out food due to freezer burn.
- FOMO SUBSCRIBING
If there was ever a time to get into a new TV show, it’s now. And while it’s enticing to have every buzzed-about show at your disposal when you’re stuck at home, it’s also easy to go overboard with your subscriptions. Freeman recommends being judicious: Instead of signing up for every streaming service available — which can lead to mindless scrolling while you’re looking for something to watch — sign up for just one or two at a time. You may find yourself gravitating toward some over others and not needing as many as you think. Some streaming services will even let you pause your subscription, so consider freezing one for a while to test if you really miss it. You can always resume the service if you feel you don’t have enough to binge-watch.
- BUYING MORE TO AVOID DELIVERY FEES
Online ordering can be a more convenient (not to mention safer) way to shop while social distancing. But while the cost of the items or services themselves can be worth it, you may find yourself adding additional items to your cart that you don’t really need or want just to qualify for free or discounted shipping.
Before clicking the “order” button, it’s worth taking the time to do some research. Freeman recommends looking for coupon codes on websites like RetailMeNot, where you can search for eligible discount codes by retailer. You can take it a step further by downloading browser extensions like Honey that do the work for you by combing the internet for deals. And shopping rewards programs like Rakuten give you cash back after you make purchases with certain online retailers.
- SUCCUMBING TO SCAMS
Seeing communities rally together to help one another has been one bright spot during the coronavirus pandemic. But Kennedy advises watching out for scammers who are ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. “This is a very vulnerable time for our country, and you cannot be naïve during a time like this,” she says. “These scammers are experts at impersonating people, organizations and corporations, and will take advantage the moment you let your guard down.”
If you want to make a donation, make sure the organization is legitimate; websites such as Charity Navigator can help. Also, be sure the charity has a direct website where you can safely donate, rather than going through a third-party. Freeman also recommends donating locally, which is not only a great way to support your immediate community, but also makes it easier to know where your money is going.