How to combat inflation on a tight budget

Prioritise essentials, negotiate with service providers, connect with your community and monetise your skills, experts say

Prioritise paying for expenses that enable you to live safely, such as housing (mortgage or rent), utilities and food. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
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Inflation is a nightmare for many people already forced to stretch their money to cover basic needs. What happens when that money loses value?

Their choice is probably not about whether to cut streaming services or opt for store-brand groceries. Instead, they may have to choose between buying enough food and paying rent.

The families hit hardest by inflation typically have little in savings and other resources. You may have to scrape together cash to support not just yourself, but also family members.

Here’s how to combat inflation if money is already tight.

Prioritise essentials

Aim to pay for expenses that enable you to live safely: housing (mortgage or rent), utilities and food. Also try to cover costs that help you to work, such as transport, cell phone and child care.

Next-level priorities are those that trigger major consequences if you do not pay, such as child support. For credit cards, aim to pay your minimum at least.

Negotiate with service providers

You may also save money by calling credit card and insurance companies, lenders, banks, cell phone providers and other businesses you pay.

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting so many consumers, these companies “are a little more empathetic than they have been”, says Emlen Miles-Mattingly, co-founder of Onyx Advisor Network, in California, a support platform for underrepresented financial advisers.

They may pause or lower payments, for example, or forgive overdue bills. Or they could lower your interest rate.

But you have to ask. And often a patient phone call with customer service yields quicker, more effective results than an email or online form.

Connect with your community

To overcome financial struggles, “community is going to be major”, says Dasha Kennedy, founder of The Broke Black Girl Facebook community.

Leaning on — or supporting — your family members, friends and neighbours can take many forms.

For example, Ms Kennedy points out how temporarily living with others can lower housing expenses. Or you can pool resources by sharing a vehicle or splitting a large expense.

To connect with supportive locals you’ve yet to meet, consider libraries, religious organisations and recreation centres. Or use online platforms such as Facebook and Nextdoor.

In these in-person and online spaces, you may find free or inexpensive goods and services. Maybe someone will give away secondhand clothes or walk your dog while you work.

Or seek guidance. Your neighbours may describe what’s helped them to make their money go farther.

Profit from your skills

Of course, making more money helps, too. If you’re already working, Ms Kennedy recommends first trying to increase earnings through your employer. Consider working overtime or negotiating salary raises and role changes, she says.

Or explore side work — with caution. Plenty of online gigs could waste your time, take your money or misuse your personal information.

“It’s high time for frauds and scams,” Ms Kennedy says. Trust your gut, and read reviews.

The most effective way to make money? “Monetise skills you already have,” Ms Kennedy says.

These could include anything from cleaning and organising to writing and designing.

Assuming you start without clients, she suggests tapping your community once again.

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“You may not have the time to build trust and reputation, so you’re going to have to rely on personal relationships,” she says.

Ask friends, neighbours and family members to promote and vouch for you.

Mind your mental health

Money struggles are exhausting. So regularly “connect with yourself”, Mr Miles-Mattingly says.

Identify what makes you feel better, whether it’s walking outside, calling a friend, meditating or reading.

If time is tight, make your activity quick, and consider Mr Miles-Mattingly’s point: “People, when stressed, don’t have the best decision-making abilities.”

And hard times mean hard decisions. It pays to feel centred before negotiating a lower bill or agreeing to a side job.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed during times of financial stress, Ms Kennedy tries not to overthink the unpredictable future. Instead, she suggests “focusing on getting through the day”.

Associated Press

Updated: July 13, 2022, 4:00 AM
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