We were excited to say goodbye to 2020 as we hopefully looked toward the future. While a positive mentality can do wonders, it won't pay the bills. For many, nothing has changed except for the date. We're still struggling to make ends meet, we're still feeling isolated, and we're wondering just how long we'll be forced to deal with a debilitating pandemic.

If you're like much of the population, your income isn't what it once was, even if you managed to stay employed during the pandemic. We could all use some extra money and, thankfully, there are things that you can do today that help you add to your bank account.

Make the most of your time during coronavirus lockdown or quarantine by trying these nine money-saving tips that help ease your financial burdens.

1. Create a Budget

The first step to saving money? Understanding where your funds go each month. You may think you know exactly how you spend your money, but when it comes time to list out all of your living expenses, plus the money you spend on entertainment, you may be shocked to find out just how many areas you can cut back in.

If you've never made a spreadsheet before, this is also a great way to build upon your professional skills. Every little bit helps, right? List out all of your living expenses, like food and rent, followed by your credit card bills.

Tip: Include credit card interest rates on your spreadsheet.

Next up on your budget spreadsheet are non-essential expenses. Do you pay for multiple streaming channels? Buy coffee a few times a week? Have magazine subscriptions? Gym membership you can't even use at the moment? Think about all the things you spend money on each month and include them in your spending report.

Once you have everything organized, it becomes much easier to identify areas to cut back in. Saving money can be a very general idea. Creating a spending report and establishing a monthly budget can take that general idea and help put it into an actionable plan.

2. Meal Prep

We spend a lot of money on food, whether that be filling up our grocery carts while at the store or having dinner delivered multiple times a week. Meal prepping is a great way to not only save money but expand your food horizons.

Put those spreadsheet skills you used for your budget to use again! Most people prep dinners, but every meal of the day can be prepped ahead of time if you have hectic weeks. Create a schedule, taking stock of the ingredients you have and what you'll need to pick up. Knowing what meals you're going to be preparing also helps cut down on grocery bills, as it eliminates impulsive purchases.

A common misconception about meal prepping? You eat the same meal every day of the week. You can mix it up as much as you want! While having the same dinner for two or three nights certainly saves prep time, nothing is stopping you from dedicating Sundays to making multiple dishes to be enjoyed later in the week.

Tackle meal prep on a day off or make it a family event to speed up the process. There are numerous online resources to help you get your meal-prepping process off the ground, including ones that offer budget-friendly recipes, like this one.

Tip: To keep costs low, look for recipes that don't require several spices or find recipes for the food you already have in your pantry.

3. Avoid Peak Demand Charges

Do you know which of your gadgets consume the most energy? When it comes to saving money, cutting back on electricity bills can make a huge difference. To successfully save, you have to know what accounts for the bulk of your bill and when your peak demand hours are.

A quick internet search or call to your utility provider can let you know when you'll be hit with peak demand charges. Aim to take a break from energy-consuming items like air conditioning and heating, water heating, and major appliances during peak hours. If you're stuck at home, turn off the air conditioning and turn on some fans, break out a board game, or designate it "reading hour." Anything that doesn't require you to pull from the electric grid.

It's also worth getting to know your appliances. Many feature delays or timers that help you bypass peak hours without requiring you to come back and manually start the device later.

4. Refinance Your Mortgage

If you're a homeowner looking to save a substantial amount of money, and who isn't, it's time to explore your refinance options.

While the pandemic caused chaos in many areas, it actually helped borrowers. How? By making interest rates plummet. In fact, rates are at historic lows, which means now is the time to replace your old mortgage contract with a new one.

There are a number of things a homeowner can accomplish by refinancing, including lowering monthly payments. Even if you know you're going to refinance with your current mortgage provider, it doesn't hurt to explore offers from other lenders. If anything, it can give you more negotiating power, since you'll know what else is out there. When it comes to long-term financial obligations and saving money, it's always best to compare rates.

Team up with Lendgo, an obligation-free, easy-to-use platform, to connect with lenders who are eager to work with you.

5. Compare Rates

Speaking of comparing rates, now is a great time to do some comparison shopping when it comes to the other bills you have, like gym memberships, health insurance, and auto coverage.

See what other providers have to offer. Even if you don't find significant savings in one area, slightly lower bills in multiple areas can really add up. Use the budget you created to review all the bills you have each month. Every single one of those likely has several different providers you can contact. As businesses work to retain customers, you can often negotiate more favorable rates for yourself.

It's all about being in the know. That gives you a leg up when it comes to negotiating.

6. Take Up a New (Cheap) Hobby

A free or inexpensive hobby, like starting a book club, meditating, woodworking, or at-home yoga, has several benefits. It can help:

  • Manage stress
  • Improve mood
  • Offer new, exciting challenges
  • Provide additional income

And save money, in more ways than one. Yes, it can be more affordable than another hobby you once had, but it can also help you cut back on the amount of time you spend surfing the internet. How does that help save money? It reduces the likelihood of impulsive purchases. We're inundated with ads on a daily basis. Some of those ads land. We want what they're selling and didn't even know we wanted it!

Your new hobby can help keep your finances in check and, depending on the hobby, make even turn into a fun side hustle!

7. Take Stock of Credit Cards

Since you have your budget, which includes credit cards and their respective interest rates, you can start to focus your re-payment efforts. Does it make sense to make the minimum payment on every account? Put more money towards one or two?

You may be shocked to see just how much you're paying in interest alone. Knowing interest rates can help you identify which credit card bills you need to pay down first. That move alone has the potential to save you hundreds in the long run.

The money you're saving from meal prepping, cutting electricity costs, and refinancing your mortgage can all go towards paying down high-interest credit cards, a great move when it comes to keeping a handle on your debt. If you have several credit cards and the temptation to use them, considering closing out a few accounts.

Before closing a credit card, make sure you understand how it will affect your financial health.

For example, closing a credit card can lower your credit score, which may make it difficult to refinance in the future or qualify for competitive rates should you need to finance a large purchase down the road.

8. Research Free Entertainment

This can be a huge money-saving endeavor, especially if you have young children. Having free or inexpensive activities on standby helps cut back on unnecessary spending. When we're tired, we go with convenience. If you're not prepared, you may find yourself caving into wants and ordering lunch on a Saturday afternoon before heading out to the movies.

Before the weekend hits, have a plan and make it known. Making sandwiches in the morning and heading to a public park armed with soccer balls and board games is an afternoon well-spent with the family. Plus, it's free!

Find free local activities and make a list. If you have children, everyone can take turns picking that weekend's activity. Even if you don't have young children, having some free activities on standby can help you plan outings with friends–outings that don't come with hefty price tags!

9.  Contribute Automatically

If it's not there, you don't miss it. Take that approach when it comes to your finances and set up automatic contributions to savings accounts. While it may not be realistic to contribute to several accounts, like a 401(k) and an emergency fund, put aside what you can. Start small and increase that amount as you're able to.

Many banks offer the ability to have a certain amount taken from your paycheck and deposited before you get the remainder. Automatic contributions can be much more effective than simply telling yourself you'll contribute to your savings a few days after payday.

This move can also help you stick to that budget you created, as you'll be starting with less spending money, forcing you to pay close attention to the things you buy.

One Day at a Time

COVID-19 was and is devastating. But the damage done doesn't have to be permanent. With time, we can rebuild our financial health, this time knowing what we hold to be important and worthy of our hard-earned money.

No matter how hard this pandemic has hit you, there are many money-saving steps you can take today. Implement them now and keep looking toward the future!