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Negotiating the New Normal, Part Four - Spending

by Sarah McMurray Spending - or not

Negotiating the New Normal, Part Four - Spending

The first three blogs have centered around research, information gathering and laying foundations for taking direct action. Now we will tackle how to go about actually taking that action

Often a shrinking or disappearing income is beyond your control. In time, you may be able to replace it or make it grow again, but often you can’t do that right away. You have more control over is how much you spend than how much money you can accumulate. You don’t have to drastically slash all your expenses at once. Just take action every day to make your financial picture better. Sometimes the changes you make will make a big difference to your financial picture. Other days, not so much. Don’t fret if the change you make today is only small. They’ll all add up. Always keep in mind the touchstones of clarity, self-care and creativity.

For maximum impact, look at your big costs. For most people, these are: accommodation, transport, debt repayment, insurance and food. Take them one step at a time:


Keep your landlord up to date with your situation. Ask for a reduction – if they say no, you’re no worse off. If you can’t pay rent in full, pay what you can. Moving is expensive, and where you live covers a large number of needs and wants. Know what your needs and wants are regarding housing, and use your creativity when considering options. Keep an eye on what happens to rents in your area – with the international tourist market on hold, some areas will have ex-Air BNB houses available to rent, which may lower rents. If your income has dropped, check with MSD to see if you qualify for an increase in the Accommodation Supplement


Mortgage deferrals and interest-only options are available. These will get you through today’s cashflow bump, but over this lifetime of the loan, you can end up paying more. I fully recommend talking to a mortgage broker before taking any action here. If you’ve found you can work from home, do you need to live in the city? Could you sell your current house and buy elsewhere for less?


Can you continue working from home and therefore spend less on petrol? I know that your first response to my next question will be “No absolutely not”, but I’m going to ask anyway: could you get by with fewer cars in your household? Yes, I know: absolutely not. Just park the idea and keep coming back to it – huge savings here if you can. Maybe this consider this combined with work and housing – work from home options and public transport availability could change the answer here. If you have a loan on your current car, could you sell it, repay the loan, and buy an older, lower-spec’d car for cash?

Debt repayment

Check your contract – as part of your repayments you may have insurance for loss of income. Stay in communication with those you owe money to. By law, they must consider applications for hardship, but they can’t do this if you don’t tell them. Plus, if you ghost them, that’s guaranteed to raise their anxiety levels. If you’re paying more than the minimum on a debt repayment, cut it back to the minimum. Commit to paying something, anything, even if it’s a pittance for a while. It acknowledges your obligation, and shows good faith.


Before you cancel the policies, check if you have the option to delay premium payments, or reduce them. There is a downside to cutting back your insurance cover, and you need to understand what it is you’re agreeing to. Check with an insurance broker before making a move.


Clarity is key: become aware of what you’re actually spending on food. Most people can name the amount they usually spend at the supermarket, but don’t add in all the other (smaller) food purchases that are part of how we live – takeaways, Uber eats, dairy purchases, smaller supermarket runs. Low hanging-fruit first: identify any habitual spending on food that you wouldn’t even miss – like that snack you get every time you put petrol in the car. Before you vow never to buy take-aways again, figure out what you will eat on those nights when you usually buy it. Often those are the nights when you’re low on both energy and time, so you’ll need a quick, appealing option to be available. The chiller aisle at the supermarket could be your friend here, or you may be a prepare-two-meals-at-once-and-put-one-in-the-freezer kind of person. To keep to a reduced food spending plan, make a meal plan before you shop, and buy what you need to make those meals. Most home cooks can make 11-14 recipes. Without a plan and list, we tend to buy ingredients so we can make most of them every week. Also, eat before you buy food. We buy more when we’re hungry. If you’re cutting back on takeaways and snacks bought on the run, be aware that your supermarket spend will probably increase a little to cover the food you’re eating instead.

Lower-cost categories are also worth checking and cutting back on

Go back through your bank and credit card transactions for things you’ve committed to and might have forgotten. Online news subscriptions. App subscriptions. Gym and sports club memberships. Review where they sit on your list of priorities. If they are important to you, investigate if there’s a way to lower the cost. If they are lower down the list of priorities, cancel them now before the next payment goes through. Look for things like deposits already made on travel or large purchases, or tickets bought for events which are now cancelled. What’s the refund policy? Shop around for the best deal on all utilities If you’ve got a regular savings plan set up, resist cutting it to zero until there’s no other option. Reduce the amount if you have to, but keep even a token amount going in to savings – keep paying yourself first.

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