Learn 5 ways to optimize your finances and save/earn some extra money during the pandemic.

Lady looking at ipad with coffee
At times like these, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your financial plans

Like all things in life, your financial journey, is a constant exercise in refinement.

Whether it’s the transition from one life stage to another, or the ebbs and flows of the global economy — the way you handle your finances will need to also adapt and change as times go by, to match the landscape of the environment around us. And at this current moment, as we learn to adapt and cope with the current global health situation, I’d like to share with you 5 changes you can also make within your financial plans — to help you guy weather out this storm.

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Daniel’s Brew

Welcome to Daniel’s Brew — where I cover personal finance, investing, and career development topics.

1) Solidify Your Emergency Fund.

So the very first thing that you should do in times like these, is to make sure you solidify an emergency fund.

In a recession, or economic downturn, you want to make sure that you and your family are protected. In the worst-case scenario — if you lose your job, you’ll need to be able to get by day to day, until you find another source of income. And that’s exactly what an emergency fund is for — it’s roughly the sum of money that you need to save — to pay for all of your day to day essentials so that you can live without an immediate incoming source of cash flow.

Now, notice that I said “essentials.” It’s critical that you’re able to separate out what a “core essential need” is versus a “nice to have” within your personal budget. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in the next step — but in a nutshell, your essentials are things like rent or mortgage and utilities so that you still have a roof over your head, cost of groceries, so that you can still eat, and the cost of anything that enables you to perform your job search, like internet service, phone bill, car payments, etc.

Family cooking together
An emergency fund is the best way to protect your family in times of economic downturn

Now if you also have a family and maybe even kids, then your definition of an emergency fund would encompass a lot more and would also take into account things like whether or not your partner works, how much childcare you need, and things like that. For most people, setting up a proper emergency fund means putting away enough money to sustain them between 3–6 months without incoming funds. We’re currently in a period where the economy is clearly showing signs of stress, with so many small businesses struggling, and the unemployment hitting record numbers. So if you’re lucky enough to still be employed during this time — solidifying your emergency fund is one of the smartest financial moves you can make. You can never predict the future, so the wisest thing you can do is prepare now for whatever life may throw at you, later on.

2) Fine Tune Your Budget

Now along the same thought of tightening up your emergency fund, this period we are in now, is also a great opportunity for us to reevaluate our personal budgets and fine-tune our spending habits and financial goals.

So on this topic, the first thing I want to say, is that if you don’t already have a financial budget — then you absolutely need to start one, right away. There has never been a successful project or initiative or major milestone that anyone’s hit — that hasn’t first started off with a decent plan behind it. This is true of your finances as well.

I know for most of you guys, building and maintaining a budget sounds tedious and taxing but let me tell you — as someone that has been meticulously tracking and managing my financial budget for the past 15 years, you’d be amazed at the freedom and empowerment you’ll experience by having full control of your finances.

You see, when money is told what to do — it becomes an incredible efficient helper on your path to reaching your financial goals, but if you don’t discipline your money, it can become one of your greatest sources of stress and anxiety.

So in this current period of economic uncertainty that we’re in — this is the perfect time to reevaluate your money’s trajectory and provide it some new directions to hyper-focus on your financial goals.

So if you are already maintaining a budget — the first thing you want to do is review all of your essential spending and ascertain whether or not any changes need to be made in this area. Are the items in this bucket still truly essential and necessary to sustain your home, put food on the table and maintain your everyday quality of life? Are there any line items that need to shift from your discretionary spending to your essential spending category or vice versa?

Once you’ve answered these types of questions and have firmly established what is essential, then what remains after that is where you can look to trim some of the fat in your budget. Having some discretionary spend is fine — but you want to optimize to make sure that you’re not still spending money on things that you don’t use or are not really that valuable to you anymore.

Lady opening a box
Stitch Fix is fun, but is it an essential need for you?

You’ll want to ask yourself things like — Do you really need that monthly Stitch Fix box? How about those razors from the Dollar Shave Club? Do you really need Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus together?

If the answer is yes, and you’re still gainfully employed and your financial budget is in line with your long term wealth objectives, then that’s totally fine. Maintaining a budget doesn’t mean having to live a financially minimalistic life — unless you want it to. Having a budget means knowing how to smartly direct your money so that you can sustain the standard of living that you want and also build upon your future financial goals.

3) Eat In More

Now along those lines of revisiting your budget — the next financial change I’d recommend is to adjust your food spending so that you buy more groceries to eat in more — rather than spend your money on food delivery or take-out.

Now let me show you guys something.

Healthy Food Diagram 1

Food, generally speaking, lives on this triangle and can only embody 2 out of these 3 characteristics at any one given time.

-If something is healthy and cheap, then it’s typically not very convenient — meaning you probably have to put in some effort into preparing it yourself. (Example: Home Cooking.)

-If something is cheap and convenient, like fast food, it’s generally not that healthy. (Example: McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Taco Bell.)

-And if something is convenient and healthy, like going out to a high-quality restaurant, it’s most likely not cheap. (Example: Cheesecake Factory.)

Now during this pandemic period — just about every restaurant is closed for dine-in and most are only serving take-out or delivery orders at this time.

So if you think about Healthy-Convenient leg of the triangle, the convenient part of this value proposition just diminished a little bit right? You can’t dine in at the restaurant, and to stay safe, when you get your pickup or delivery order, you now have to transfer your food into your own serving ware and make sure you cleanly dispose of your trash.

For me, eating straight out the of the to-go containers and not having to do additional clean up or dishes was a big point of convenience for me that played a factor in why I liked delivery or take out — that and the fact that I didn’t have to cook the food myself, of course.

Now, if you choose a high-quality restaurant that is conscious about the ingredients that they use, then chances are that you satisfy the healthy part of the equation, but restaurant food, in general, is expensive and if you use any one of the delivery services, like Door Dash, Postmates or Uber Eats, that’s an additional fee on top of your food cost — so definitely not cheap.

Healthy Food Diagram 2
The Food Triangle

Now, looking at the Convenient-Cheap leg of the triangle, this category usually means your fast food joints, like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s chicken etc. And while it may be cheap, it definitely isn’t the healthiest choice and the convenience factor here is similarly reduced as in the previous example, because of the same safety efforts that I mentioned earlier.

Now regarding the Cheap-Healthy leg of the triangle — one of the easiest ways to get cheap and healthy food is to cook it yourself. Getting raw ingredients from a grocery store is definitely cheaper than getting take out from a restaurant.

Regarding health, when you cook food yourself, it’s definitely healthier as you know exactly what ingredients you are putting into your meal.

But from a convenience factor, YES — you do have to cook it yourself, and serve it yourself, so that’s the downside here.

Healthy Food Diagram 3
Compare the 3 legs of the food triangle — which do you think is best?

But if you look at all 3 options side by side, it looks like the Healthy-Cheap leg of the triangle is the most optimal path to go on.

Now, if you are an strong advocate for a local restaurant and you want to support them in this time of economic downturn by ordering from them — then by all mean, please do so. But if that’s not the case, and if you’re looking at it from purely a pragmatic and financial standpoint, in our current situation, I don’t think you can beat eating in at home.

Let’s take a quick look at the financial side and see if we can quantify just how much cheaper eating in would be vs getting delivery or take out.

Burrito ingredients picture
My go-to Chipotle burrito

These are the ingredients that go into my favorite Chipotle burrito.

Chicken (1 cup, 0.35 lbs)

White Rice (1/2 cup, 0.27 lbs)

Roasted Chili Corn (1/2 cup, 0.23 lbs)

Cheese (1/2 cup, 0.13 lbs)

Sour Cream (1/2 cup, 0.31 lbs)

Lettuce (1 cup, 0.17 lbs)

This burrito costs me $8.20.

Now, if I were to go to the store and buy all of these ingredients to make this burrito at home — it would cost me $18.42.

Home made burrito ingredients picture
What it would cost for me to buy the ingredients to cook my burrito at home

You’ll notice that the cost is higher, because I can’t just buy just the exact portions of the ingredients that I need — I have to buy the whole packages.

But since I buy the whole packages, I’m able to recreate my favorite burrito more than just once — in fact, by my loose calculations, if I keep roughly the same portion size for each ingredient, I should be able to make 3 full Chipotle burritos with the amount of money I spent at the grocery store. So that means, each Chipotle burrito comes out to be $6.14, if I make it myself, as opposed to the $8.20 I’d spend if I ordered it from Chipotle directly — that’s of difference of $2.06.

And let’s say that I typically eat from Chipotle at least once a week — by making this behavioral change, I will have saved $107.12 in the course of a year. Couple that with the health benefit— and it seems like a no brainer to make this small change in your eating habits, right?

4) Sell Your Old Stuff

Another really good financial move you can make during this time is to sell your old items online — to declutter your home and also earn some supplemental cash. Over the years, we’ve all collected junk that we don’t use anymore.

Whether it’s the cool-looking Retro Hot Dog Cooker, or that Bowflex 2 Xtreme 2 home gym, you’ve only used twice or that Golf Training Shirt that your buddy promised would shave 4 strokes off of your game… These are all things that may not be useful to you anymore, but they might be helpful to someone else. Simplifying and decluttering your life is an excellent course of action at any time, and in this time especially — trading in your old items to for some extra cash is very prudent.

For me, my go-to channel when I want to sell something online is this app called Offerup.

Offer up app screen shot
OfferUp is a good way to sell your unused items

It’s a really easy peer-to-peer selling platform, where you go through a very easy 4 step process to list and sell your products to other users.

1) First, you give the posting a title and upload a few photos of the product you want to sell.

2) Next, you specify what category your product falls under, specify the condition, and write a quick description of your item.

3) Then, you set the price you are asking for, indicating whether or not you are firm on that price or negotiable.

4) And next, you specify what location you’re in, and whether or not you are willing to ship it to another state.

And there you go — you have your posting listed for sale on Offerup.

What’s also really great about this app is that users are encouraged to build up credibility by verifying in multiple factors of authentication, from your email to phone and even link your Facebook account. This helps both sellers and buyers by letting them know that the person on the other end is a real verified human being.

I’ve tried some of the other selling methods out there like LetGo and Craigslist — but in my experience, I’ve had more genuine people reach out to be on OfferUp, than any of the rest.

But whatever you use, it’s never too early or too late to declutter your home and make some extra cash.

5) Develop a source of passive income

And the 5th financial change you should make during this time, is to develop a source of passive income.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — there are hundreds of videos out there on the internet, that talk about passive income, side hustles, and 19-year-old kids retiring early by running Amazon dropship businesses, or network marketing schemes, etc.

That’s not what I’m talking about. 75% of those things are scams and the other 25% isn’t really passive work at all — they’re actually even more time & effort-intensive than your main job.

When I say passive income, I’m narrowing that definition down to only sources of income that meet these 3 criteria:

1) It is incremental income you can generate by leveraging something you already do, already know, or already have. If you have to learn a new skill or start a side business or invest & put up a large sum of seed money to get something started — then at that point, you’re really just taking on a 2nd job. That’s not what we are after.

2) It is something that has to take no more than 5 hours a week to develop and maintain. Remember, it’s supposed to be passive, so it should feel like a very small portion of your week.

3) It drives positive cash flow — meaning this passive income source results in actual cash or cash-like value being transferred into your possession. So things like trading stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs — while they’re great channels of increasing your overall wealth, I wouldn’t call them passive income streams, but rather investments, because they don’t give you immediate incoming cash unless you decide to liquidate your holdings.

So with this narrow definition of passive income, here are 3 examples that I have to share with you today.

A) Participate in a focus group

The first method of passive income you can start right now, without any type of prior experience or knowledge — is to participate in a focus group study.

Focus Group homepage image
Participate in focus group studies to make some extra income

There is a company called Focus Point Global that facilitates focus group studies for a variety of consumer goods companies. These studies range from media service offerings to healthcare topics to even different types of pet food and generally pay around $50-$100/per study.

Signing up is easy — you just register a profile on the Focus Point Global site and simply fill out a questionnaire that captures your demographic information, and as studies come up that you’re qualified for, they will reach out to you and ask you to complete a more in-depth survey form — that is specific to each study to make sure you are exactly a right match for that particular focus group. If you do match — then generally, you’ll complete a 1-hour online webcam interview with a facilitator who’ll walk you through some scenarios and capture your responses.

Daniel drinking beverage
Me, doing a drink focus group study

I recently completed a study for a Japanese drink company that was interested in seeing what their perception was in the US market — and it was fun!

B) Write or Blog (Medium.com)

The next thing that you can do is become a writer for blogs or publications like Medium.com.

The premise behind these types of writing gigs is that you create content by writing articles and submit them to get published. In the case of Medium.com, if your articles are interesting and generate views and reads, then you can earn a small percentage of Medium’s paying member’s subscription fees. How much you make depends on how long each visitor reads your content. It’s a great pay-for-performance model that hinges upon your ability to create engaging and valuable content for others to read.

C) Sell Creative Online

And the last passive income method I have for you guys, is to license and sell your creative artwork through sites like Redbubble or Teespring.

Here is the concept:

1) You, as a creator or artist, create a really cool piece of art or illustration or a catchy slogan — and you make a design out of it and upload it onto a site like Redbubble or Teespring.

2) These two companies (and others like it) have all of the production capabilities to take your artwork and print them on t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, living room decor, etc.

3) When a paying customer, selects your artwork and decides to purchase the merchandise or product from these sites — you get the proceeds from the sale, minus the platform’s costs and fees.

This is a great business model for anyone that is already an artist or designer — or just someone that has a creative mind.

So that wraps up the five financial changes that I recommend you make during this period of economic downturn — to help ensure that you come out of the other end in a robust and viable financial state. I hope you found this information helpful.

Remember, as I mentioned before — when money is told what to do, it becomes an excellent aide in helping you accomplish your financial goals. And in this economic climate — it’s never been more crucial to have a firm command of your money and your financial plans.

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**** Disclaimer *****

The content here is strictly the opinion of Daniel’s Brew and is for entertainment purposes only. It should not be considered professional financial investment or career advice. Investing and career decisions are personal choices that each individual must make for themselves in accordance with their situation and long term plans. Daniel’s Brew will not be held liable for any outcome as a result of anyone following the opinions provided in this content.

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