The financial impact of COVID - 19 restrictions will be with us long after the restrictions are lifted. Thus, minimizing the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our household finances is critical at this time. Here are some of the things we need to do on:
Food, stress and health
At the most basic level the COVID-19 restrictions have added stress to Malawians who are already in the unprecedented unstable social- political environment that has followed the May 2019 Tripartite Elections resulting in more slowing down of economic activities.
Stress and anxiety often drives up the consumption of comfort food and binge or boredom eating. Binge eating means eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under normal circumstances. The time is now to avoid eating much more rapidly than normal. Avoid eating until feeling uncomfortably full. And avoid eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
Excessive food consumption is not only unhealthy, undermining your immune system, but it also results in higher grocery bills, Hence managing your food consumption responsibly during this period is key to spend less on food. Remember too that whenever you do need to go to buy groceries and others, you are required to observe the physical distancing protocols that have been put in place to lessen the risk of the contracting or spreading the virus.
Data and electricity costs
As many and more companies are encouraging their employees to work from home, this requires more data and electricity. With almost everyone being at home, will translate to a spike in television watching, live streaming and social media activity for entertainment as well as online learning. Thanks to network providers for providing free access to selected online lessons. However some of students are left out of that provision hence the need for them to have own data. To help control data costs, make sure you:
- Stream from a single device
- download content during non-peak time when the internet speed is fast
- limit streaming high definition content where possible
- If you have a cellphone monitor your airtime, voice and data consumption to minimize costs.
- Avoid opening applications that use more data when not using them.
Need to change Lifestyle
It is important to consider in our monthly budgeting inclusion of detergents and washing soaps since observing hygiene is one of the important components in this time of crisis. Do the following: -
- Adjust your budget by considering inclusion of soaps and detergents in your listings.
- It is important to teach children and relatives at home good hygienic ways in order to avoid contacting Covid-19.
- It is time to consider hygiene as culture in budgeting.
Increased financial responsibilities
Many families in Malawi are extended families. This means we live together with even distant relatives as part of our culture. As a result, people are feeding many mouths even during this difficult times which is stretching their budgets. Here is what you can do to manage your stretched budget: have a frank and honest discussion with your family and explain what is possible and what is not. Make sure they understand that you will only be able to cater for essential items such as food and other basic necessities.
When you draw up a budget and include other family members in your expenses, prioritize the most important costs first. For example, if you usually cater for a family member’s transport costs, let them know that as they won’t be travelling much due to restrictions, you will make an allocation only for food and electricity.
Use credit wisely and responsibly
While it is never advisable to buy food on credit, it may be unavoidable during these COVID-19 restrictions. However, proceed with the utmost caution and only borrow what you will be able to repay. Thanks to some financial services who have decided to offers loan repayment relief due to COVID-19 pandemic to their customers. This is an opportunity for us to spend on the very basic needs. Make sure you are alert as many more credible institutions are coming up with creative ways to take the pressure off some of their most vulnerable customers.
Time for bold decisions – not drastic action
If your budgeting shows that you are going to be short of money, be prepared to cut costs. Live on more affordable food. Eliminate unnecessary big purchases that you do not really need.
It is no longer a secret that some companies are reducing employees’ salaries due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Others are even strategizing on retrenching some workers as the businesses can no longer support them all. Certainly, this COVID-19 times is not a time for job-hopping, since we do not know what the long-term implications of the pandemic will be. This is not the time to be leaving a secure employer for another whose survival is not certain. Whether or not COVID-19 has come to stay among humans like HIV/Aids, it is still hard to predict if the virus will be brought under control shortly. What is evident is that unless we are prudent with our finances right now, this period will have prolonged financial implications for most households and companies.
In conclusion, taking safety measures to protect your financial health, and being as strict about this as you are with your physical health, can help you get through this challenging time with your finances reasonably intact.
Written By Benard Chiluzi - Financial Education Specialist - Old Mutual Malawi