About 61% of Americans say they have been financially impacted by Covid-19, according to a recent TransUnion poll.
While that may look different household to household — about 45% say either they or their partner lost their job, while 37% say their hours at work have been reduced — an overwhelming majority say that they're worried about stretching their dollars to cover their monthly expenses. About 68% of Americans are concerned about their ability to pay bills and loans, TransUnion's April 6 survey of over 3,000 U.S. adults found.
That means many are looking to trim costs this month. Here are five steps you can take if you need to cut down your budget, according to experts.
Recurring payments can add up, even if you're not looking to trim your budget. That's why it's worth keeping track of all the services you currently subscribe to.
Don't remember exactly what you signed up for? Go through your credit card statement and look for any subscriptions you might be paying on a monthly basis, money expert Tori Dunlap tells CNBC Make It. Some apps, such as Albert and Truebill, can also help you identify subscriptions.
When it comes to determining what to cut out, prioritize your expenses, says Ryan Hughes, founder of San Diego-based financial planning firm Bull Oak Capital. Decide what's essential and what can you live without, perhaps just temporarily until you're back on your feet financially.
Steaming services and magazine subscriptions are "low hanging fruit," Hughes says. If you don't need them right now, go onto your account and cancel or contact customer service.
In addition to finding and cutting any nonessential subscriptions, Hughes recommends creating a budget to make it easier to track your money. "Going through the budgeting process exposes a lot of hidden expenses that are fairly painless to reduce or eliminate," he says.
Even if your income hasn't been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, negotiating your recurring bills can save you a ton of money, Dunlap says. The easiest bills to negotiate tend to be cable, cell phone and auto insurance coverage.
First, pick up the phone. You want to have a conversation for this rather than emailing your provider or using an online chat bot. But keep in mind that you may be waiting for a while to connect. Once you do get hold of customer service, be direct about what you want. You can say something like, "I saw that a competitor is offering an unlimited data plan for 20% less," Dunlap says.
Make sure to remind the company if you're a loyal customer. "Companies are more able and excited to help you if you can demonstrate you're a repeat customer," Dunlap says. "They want you to continue doing business with them and for you to have a great experience."
Not a loyal customer? Turn that into a potential win for the company by saying something along the lines of: "I'd really love for you to earn my loyalty and business today."
If your income has been impacted by Covid-19, make sure to specifically say that during your conversation since many companies have recently rolled out assistance programs. Many popular car insurance companies, such as Allstate, State Farm, Liberty Mutual and Nationwide, have promised to issue refunds while driving rates are low, for instance.
You should also revisit what your policy covers, Hughes says: "Most people have unnecessary auto coverage and simply realigning the coverage you need can save hundreds of dollars." If you're now driving significantly less because you're currently working from home, you may want to call your insurance company and ask to be re-rated as a lower mileage driver.
If you don't have success negotiating down your current rates, do some research on the alternatives. If you currently have an unlimited plan with Verizon or AT&T and your phone is paid off, consider switching to a budget carrier such as Visible or Cricket. Both companies, which run on Verizon and AT&T networks, offer plans that could save you as much as half of your current cell phone bill.
Verizon charges $70 for its basic unlimited plan, which has taxes and fees added on top of your plan price, while Visible offers a $40 monthly unlimited plan with the taxes and fees baked in.
If there is more than one cable or internet provider in your area, consider switching. That could be especially helpful if your current provider won't lower your rates and others are offering introductory rates that can reduce your monthly spending until you get back on your feet.
Negotiating your credit card interest rates can have a huge payoff, Dunlap says. If you have $1,000 on a credit card that charges 18% interest, you'll likely pay about $200 in interest to pay off that debt over the course of two years. But by shaving off just two percentage points to 16%, the interest drops to just $175.
Start with your oldest card first, since you've been a customer there the longest. If you have multiple cards, it's worth asking for a rate reduction on all of them, but you may have more leverage with your longest relationship.
Before you even pick up the phone, do your homework. Look at your payment history — if you've had on-time payments for years, that's worth mentioning when you call up the issuer. Also do some research on what other offers similar cards have at the moment, such as low introductory APRs and 0% APR periods. Keep in mind that the average interest rate is currently 16.61% on credit cards that assess interest, according to the Federal Reserve, so aim to get your rate below that.
"The most effective approach to negotiate for lower interest rates is to have another offer in hand," Hughes says, adding that it doesn't take long to shop around and secure different offers. Once you have those, you have the leverage to push your current rates down since you've shown that you are prepared to take your business elsewhere.
Beyond credit cards, Hughes recommends considering taking advantage of the current low interest rates by refinancing your mortgage if you have one. If your interest rate is currently over 4% (rates are now 3.31%), you have good credit and you plan to stay in your home for a while, this may lower your monthly payment and cut the overall interest you end up paying.
Once you have your recurring expenses and interest trimmed as much as possible, focus on keeping your spending down, Hughes says. "Amazon and other e-commerce sites make it very easy to purchase items online and it is often an area that can be trimmed," he says. To make it harder for you to spend, consider removing your saved credit cards from the accounts you frequent the most, including disabling Amazon's convenient one-click ordering.
You should also take the time to set up a specific monthly spending limit for online shopping. Taking this step can be the difference between going over budget and having money to spare, Hughes says.
"Changing your spending habits is a lot like inertia," Hughes says. "The most difficult part is establishing that change." But once you have a bit of momentum as a tailwind, you will find that it is easier to maintain a budget.