COVID-19 has had such a devastating impact on the U.S. — more than 225,000 deaths and nearly 9 million cases, not to mention more than 20 million people losing their jobs.
Have you ever wondered if your city was one of the hardest hit?
Interestingly, the financial advice site WalletHub just compared the 100 largest U.S. cities to take a deeper look at where people are struggling the most financially. Among other things, it looked at bankruptcy filings, unemployment rates and average credit scores for each city.
According to its calculations, here are the 10 cities that have been the hardest-hit financially by COVID:
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Chicago, Illinois
- Houston, Texas
- San Antonio, Texas
- Dallas, Texas
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Los Angeles, California
- Austin, Texas
- Miami, Florida
- Fort Worth, Texas
The most obvious trend is that five of these 10 cities are in Texas. Other than that, they’re spread across the country. They’re everywhere.
If you’re struggling with money, here are five smart financial strategies to keep in mind:
1. Watch Your Credit
In these crazy times, it’s worth keeping track of your credit score. Your score is important because the higher your score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, or even a deposit on a car rental or an apartment.
So if you’re looking to get your credit score back on track — or even if it is on track and you want to bump it up — try using a free website called Credit Sesame.
Within two minutes, you’ll get access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).
Getting your free credit score takes less than two minutes.
2. Make Yourself a Safety Net
Lots of us are learning this year: Being out of work is one of the toughest things that can happen to you. That’s why it’s a good idea to build up an emergency fund that equals three to six months of your salary, in case you unexpectedly lose your job.
How can you do that? Try the 50/30/20 method for budgeting. Take your total after-tax income each month, and divide it in half. That’s your essentials budget (50%). Take the rest, and divide it into personal spending (30%) and financial goals (20%).
Let’s break it down: That’s 50% for things like utilities, groceries, medications, minimum debt payments and other essential spending. Then there’s 30% for fun: Thai takeout, your Netflix subscription, dressing up a skeleton on your lawn for Halloween.
That leaves 20% for your financial goals, like additional debt-reduction payments (anything above the minimum monthly payment) along with retirement savings and investments. If you’re trying to build an emergency fund, consider cutting from the fun category — and anywhere else you can — to funnel as much money as you can into that emergency fund. A little sacrifice now could be a lifesaver later.
3. Switch to a Discount Phone Carrier
We’re all familiar with the big wireless companies: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint. We’re also familiar with the hefty bills they hit us with each month.
But here’s the good news: Discount cell phone companies are becoming more and more popular, giving the Big Guys a run for their money. And, in fact, many of these discount carriers run on one of the major carriers, so you can still get reliable coverage — but at a steep discount.
Consider switching over to a discount carrier like Twigby, Tello, Mint Mobile or Cricket Wireless. In most cases, you can do this all online, and you can even keep your current phone!
4. Unplug the Vampires
Those sneaky energy vampires — the devices that suck away energy when you’re not using them — can make up as much as 20% of your monthly electric bill.
Turn any corner, and you’re likely to find a vampire. Your coffee maker, your cable box, your phone charger… Once you identify these lurkers, simply unplug them when not in use.
Pro tip: Invest in a few power strips. Rather than roving around your house and unplugging each device, simply plug everything into a strip and flip one switch.
This simple move could save you a good chunk of change this year.
5. Shop at Cheaper Grocery Stores
Sure, high-end supermarkets are super nice. Whole Foods and The Fresh Market have delicious prepared food and have great-looking organic produce. Regional chains like Publix and Harris Teeter and Giant Eagle and A&P have a lot of dedicated fans, too.
But their prices are higher. It’s just a fact. You’re paying a premium for that shopping experience.
Switch things up and see how much you can save by shopping at a discount grocer like Aldi, Costco or Trader Joe’s.
Maybe this requires changing your routine. But nothing about 2020 is routine.
Try these tips and see how much you can cut from your monthly bills. Because these days, a lot of us need every last dollar we can get.