The pandemic shook the economy in 2020, and livelihoods and businesses everywhere were impacted like never before. Today, the ramifications are still felt.
We asked eight women, from freelancers to business owners, to share how they’re handling their personal, business and household expenditure in this unusual time.
New to the job market, I try to save as much money as I can.
“The pandemic made me realise the importance of saving. I saw how unstable the job market is – you could be employed one day and out of work the next several months.
I graduated from university last July, at the peak of the pandemic. Companies weren’t hiring and I was worried about not being able to find a job. Luckily, I managed to secure a traineeship in October. While it paid less than what I expected, I took the position anyway, because I wasn’t sure when I’d get another opportunity. Now, eight months later, the company has offered me a permanent role.
When I started working, I saved 50% of my income and put 25% into my GrabPay account. I only spend from that GrabPay account, and when the money runs out I’ll top it up as needed with the remaining 25 per cent of my income. Whatever money I don’t spend at the end of the cycle goes into my savings.
Recently, I also started experimenting with an investment app called Stashaway.
Being stuck at home for much of the last year has been good for my wallet, because I haven’t been able to dine out or shop as much as I used to. I still shop, of course, but because I’m more money-conscious now, I try to look for cheaper alternatives online or wait until an item is on sale before buying it.”
I started investing and have become more frugal.
“I’ve definitely been watching my pennies in the last year or so, partly because I got married and will soon have to start paying off my house.
When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t too concerned about my job. At the time I was an educator with the Ministry of Education and had job security. However, it was during this time that I realised the importance of nature in our lives, so when I was offered an opportunity to become an environmental educator with a non-government organisation, I took it. But, it came with a pay cut.
Since starting my new job, I’ve had to be more careful with my money. I began investing with AIA, and also make sure that my monthly spending doesn’t exceed 20% of my current salary. My job has also made me more environmentally conscious, so I think twice before buying something new. I prefer to refuse, reduce and reuse, which is a great money-saving strategy.”
Budgeting and homesteading keep our household expenses down.
“It’s been a rollercoaster year. I’m a content creator, so there were times where I had a lot of work and periods where nothing much was coming in. Work has picked up in recent months, but to help us track our personal and household spending, my husband and I started a spreadsheet in the past year. Just one look at it and we can tell where our money is going, so we don’t bust our monthly budget. It also gives us a better idea on how to plan for the future.
Lately, I’ve taken to making my own bread, pasta and yogurt at home, and growing produce in the garden. It keeps our family’s grocery expenses down, and I enjoy the process.”
(Here are “4 Ways To Cut Down On Your Daily Expenses“)
My business partner and I took pay cuts.
“Being in the event industry, our company suffered last year. All events were put on hold and we had no idea when they would resume. It was a challenging time, beyond anything I’d ever experienced in my working life. As a business owner, I’d always been careful about spending, but during the pandemic I had to be extra cautious. Our biggest goal was to keep all our staff employed no matter what, so my business partner and I switched our employees to a four-day workweek and adjusted their salaries accordingly, which translated to a 20% deduction from pre-pandemic earnings. My business partner and I each took a 50% pay cut and paused our company’s software subscriptions to bring expenses down even more.
Before the pandemic, I loved shopping for big-ticket items. Now, when I want to spend on myself, I tend to go for more affordable treats, like new workout clothes, yoga blocks, jewellery, and other little items that make me feel good.”
I minimise costs where I can, at work and at home.
“A few months into the pandemic, I made the difficult decision of letting go of my staff outside Singapore. The cosmetics pillar of my beauty product company was hit pretty badly with the mask mandate and the ban of testers in retail stores.
I also pivoted to a build-to-order model. We focused on anti-maskne skincare and took orders through a crowd-funding platform to mitigate inventory risk. We shifted to a localised gig-economy staffing model, part of which tapped into Enterprise Singapore grants such as SG United. Cash is king and having a healthy balance sheet is critical, especially since the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight and many businesses are focusing on long-term survival. Additionally, my company reduced operating expenses by more than half and paused marketing app subscription services when they didn’t meet our return-on-investment.
At home, my husband, teenage children and I are more mindful of our spending habits. We reduced our clothing budget by 80% and swopped pre-loved fashion to help keep our overall spending under control. The pandemic opened my eyes to the fact that ‘rainy days’ can sometimes stretch into weeks, months and even years, so you have to be prepared for them.”
My spending increased so I’ve been trying to balance it out.
“I’ve actually spent more money since the pandemic began. I’m an essential worker and I was allowed to dress casually for my job, so I had to invest in appropriate casual work clothes. I also spent a small fortune buying all types of face masks, because it was difficult finding one that fit right, and which I could breathe in and didn’t scratch or irritate my skin.
To help balance out all these extra expenses, I’ve been looking for ways to save. So for instance, my family and I used to eat out a lot at restaurants, but we’ve cut down on this quite a bit now. We also cook extra at mealtimes and save leftovers for the next day to manage our grocery expenditure.”
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I slashed company expenses and ate almost all meals at home.
“I run an online platform for flexible office space, so when people all over the world were ordered to work from home during the pandemic, our industry was severely impacted. My business partners and I took a hard look at our company expenses to see where we could cut back. Instead of laying off staff, we took a 20% pay cut across the board and used the time to improve our product and processes. The way we saw it, if everyone suffered a little then nobody had to suffer a lot.
My husband, 13-year-old twins and I cooked most of our meals instead of dining out. This was a great opportunity to bond with one another, learn how to budget to create economical dishes, discover new cuisines and experiment with different cooking techniques. We were also more careful about how we used certain natural resources, like water and electricity, to help keep our utility bills down.”
We redirected our budget to make our time at home more comfortable.
“The pandemic didn’t directly impact our family’s financial situation, but it did influence how we managed our budget. Since holidaying overseas is out of the question now and we’re spending more time indoors, my husband and I channelled what we would’ve spent on travelling towards enhancing our home, to make it more fun and comfortable for us and our two children, aged 11 and 15.
Priority went to upgrading our WiFi network, home maintenance, new furniture, new electronic devices and a new entertainment system, including the installation of smart speakers in our kids’ rooms. We also purchased things that would help us while away time at home, such as ingredients for baking brownies and cookies, books for our daughter and mega jigsaw puzzles for our son.
Although the global economy took a huge hit from Covid-19, I wasn’t overly worried. I’ve experienced economic crises – I lost my job in the 2008 downturn – but I’ve always bounced back. What I’ve learnt from those past recessions is to not live beyond your means, and set aside an emergency fund in case you need something to fall back on.”