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Seven saving habits for the coronavirus quarantine that should carry you for the rest of the year

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We are still shopping.

But we're shopping differently. Walmart is selling more tops and fewer pants. Jigsaw puzzles are having a moment. Streaming subscription services are offering longer free periods, and demand is sky-high.

In the beginning, people were also panic-buying groceries to be sure they were stocked up.

"Now that the normal activities that people used to spend money on are shut down, they are turning to other avenues of spending," said Sarah Wilson, a personal finance blogger and YouTuber in College Station, Texas. And some might not be the best use of cash in the long run.

Preparing for an emergency that doesn't seem to have an end date can be tricky. "Anything can happen with any of our jobs," Wilson said.  

But you'll never go wrong by building up cash, and the way to do that is to change your spending habits.

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Remember, these savings hacks don't have to be permanent. You can always go back and turn on a subscription you ditched when life becomes more normal. For now, you will likely welcome the extra cash.

"This is a great time to set the foundation" for more intentional spending, said Jessica Byrne, a personal finance blogger who lives near Albany, New York.

"When things start to return to normal, having that little cash cushion could be very motivating when you see how much you've saved in a short period of time," she said.

Try these seven cost-cutting measures, then use them in good times to build up your emergency fund.

1. Ditch subscription boxes. You might feel you need a treat, but the short-term joy of opening a surprise box won't match the mental security of having enough cash to cover your bills.

"I'm not a fan of subscription boxes," Wilson said. "You're purchasing something you haven't chosen — someone else has chosen it with the mass market in mind."

Most of the items — makeup, hair masks, picnic sets, stationery folders — are unnecessary. "No one's wearing makeup now," Wilson said.

Sarah Wilson, aka Budget Girl, says it's time to take a sharp look at all expenses.
Source: Sarah Wilson

2. Go on frugal dates. When dinner and a movie is no longer an option, get creative about quality time for couples. 

Byrne suggests doing yoga at home together, having a cocktail hour, setting aside time without paying for an event.

As the savings mount up from all the things you're not paying for, it can motivate you to save more. "When all this settles down we'll be able to carry over the things we've learned and keep doing them, even when we can go out again," Byrne said.

 3. Plan meals. "The one thing we can leave home to do — grocery shop or pick up restaurant food — can be tempting," Wilson said. But grocery trips, especially as a form of entertainment, can lead to a lot of impulse buying.  

More people are cooking and baking at home, says Byrne, who recommends tracking the savings on restaurant spending.

"If you save $40 to $50 per meal that adds up really quickly," she said.  

How to save more and spend less

Become a great meal planner. "Use the food you have, avoid food waste, limit trips to the store and budget a reasonable number of eating-out nights, so you look forward to it," Wilson said.

"Waiting to pick up food could be a nice break from being home, and it saves money if you don't pay Uber fees," Wilson said. "Treat it as an inside date."  

4. Clothing cutbacks. "Right now, PJs, athleisure wear and sweats are appropriate since most people are home," Wilson said. "We don't need date night clothing or special clothing."

When the time comes to dress up once more, your entire regular wardrobe will feel new again.

5. Raise a little cash. You might take advantage of your time at home by getting rid of unwanted items. "Take photos and list things on Craigslist, Nextdoor or Facebook groups," Bryne said. "If these things aren't helping you out when you're at home, they're not going to come in handy in the future."

Try asking yourself if things would be better off converted to money in an emergency fund, Wilson says. This is especially effective if you're a little bored. It's something to do, and plenty of mail services will pick up from your home. 

6. Shop around. "Make sure you are paying best price for services, like your insurance carrier, internet provider, cellphone service," Bryne said.

Ask for a lower rate. "Many companies are offering discounts and more competitive pricing," Byrne said, so ask, "Can you do any better on my bills?"

7. That Amazon habit. Now that the site's two-day shipping is no longer a thing, it's a good time to see how much you really want something, Wilson says.

Byrne likes a method she calls shop and dump. "Fill your cart, then wait a few days to fill the order," she said. "If it's going to take several weeks to get there, this is a habit that you can use in the future."

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