How to Look After Your Finances During A Crisis

Last updated 20/09/2021 at 10:52

Brought to you in partnership with Money and Pension Service Youth Checkpoints programme.

If you have had to take time off work, or are out of work for any reason it can be a worrying and stressful time. Whatever your situation, you might be particularly concerned about your finances and how you'll manage them.  

When there are still bills to pay and things to buy when you are experiencing a drop in income, what can you do to try and make sure you have enough money to cover these costs in the meantime?

Familiarise yourself with your rights

Understanding what your rights are at work, whether you're self-employed or are worried you might lose your job, will help you know what you're entitled to.

For instance, if you have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Money Helper have put together a handy guide with information about your rights and practical steps you can take.

Make an emergency budget

Take a look at how much you have at the moment, what income you might expect over the coming months and what you're spending. We know this isn't a fun activity, but it's good to have a handle on what's happening and you'll likely feel more in control once you've done it.

Money Helper's handy Budget Calculator can give you lots of advice on where you can cut a lot of costs, especially if you have less money coming in right now. 

Figure out how you can cut down essential spending 

There are some things that you have to spend money on, things like your electricity, rent, and food. But there are ways to cut some of these costs to make your money last longer.

Utilities (water, electricity, gas)

Although we are spending lots more time indoors, you can try and save money on your electricity and water bills by making sure to turn off the lights, unplugging things that you aren't using, having quicker showers so you use less water, and turning down the heating and popping more layers of clothing on.

Did you know that by turning down your thermostat by just 1°C - this could cut 10% off your heating bill?

It can also be a good time to try and switch suppliers, as this can help you save money. Money Helper has some really good advice on how to do this.

If you think you might struggle to pay your bills, your most recent bill will have a phone number on it to call to talk to your provider. They will be able to tell you about ways you can make affordable repayments and they should also check if you’re on the best tariff for the amount of electricity/water/etc you're using. 

If you're having problems getting to or topping up your prepayment meter, the best thing to do is to get in touch with your supplier who will be able to help. Citizens Advice has lots of useful information if you have a prepayment meter.

Rent/mortgage

You should let your landlord know if you’re struggling to pay rent and discuss possible options with them as soon as possible. If you come to an agreement, for example, a reduction in rent or late payments, make sure you get this in writing. The Money Advice Service has a really good guide on how to talk to your landlord about rent payments. 

If you have a mortgage, lots of mortgage providers are allowing you to take repayment holidays which mean you don't need to pay any, or a reduced amount of money toward your mortgage, for three months. It's best to chat with your mortgage provider about this. Here's what to expect when you request a mortgage payment holiday. 

Food

In terms of food, it can be really good to meal prep. This means making a big batch of food once a week, dividing it into portions, and freezing it so you have breakfasts/lunches/dinner that you can have later on in the week, or can save for a couple of months! 

There also other ways you can cut back on how much money you spend on food. Here are some tips on how to save money on your supermarket shop.

If you cannot afford food at the moment, there are food banks across the country that can help. You can find your nearest food bank at the Trussell Trust website. 

With your Young Scot card, you can get 10% discount at the Co-op and Scotmid stores across Scotland. Remember that government guidelines say that you should only go shopping for essentials such as food once a day at the most.

Reduce non-essential costs 

Review what subscriptions you have ongoing such as sports packages like BT/Sky Sports or beauty box subscriptions and think about how much you are using them. You may find you're paying for something that you don't use as much any more and could save money on.

Services like Now TV or Amazon Prime usually have offers where you can enjoy some free streaming TV for a while (usually for a month). Just remember to put a notification in your calendar to make sure you cancel it in time so you don't get charged.

Some libraries in Scotland are also putting lots of things online that you can access for free, you just need to sign up for a digital library card. It's worth looking up what your local library is offering. Find out what local authority you stay in and go on their website to find out. 

There are lots of free workouts and fitness videos you can access on YouTube, you could make the most of these and take a break from your gym subscription or move to a cheaper membership plan.

It's important to still have fun and keep the things you really enjoy - we all need entertaining things to watch, read and listen to! Also, try and think a little differently - is it time to dig out your (or your family's) CD's/cassettes/vinyl, or dust off those old DVD/Blu-Ray boxsets you have, rather than paying for a streaming service? 

Dip into savings

Do you have savings that you could dip into? If you have an ISA, or other fixed-term or notice savings account, banks are being more flexible due to the current situation and therefore you may be able to access the money without paying a fee. Check with your bank or building society to see if this is an option for you. 

Access the help you're entitled to

If you aren't able to work at the moment, or your income has been reduced for any reason, you should look into claiming benefits and other financial support that is available as soon as you can.

You might be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you're ill from or are having to self isolate because of coronavirus. Take a look at Citizen Advice Scotland's information to see if you're entitled to SSP.

There are other ways to get some extra financial support during a crisis, for example, in Scotland, you can apply for a crisis grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

If you already receive benefits and your income has changed you should update your council for your housing benefit and report the changes to universal credit. Shelter Scotland has a letter you can use to let the council know your circumstances have changed so they can update your housing benefit. If you receive Universal Credit, you can report a change in circumstances through your online Universal Credit account.

A £500 grant is available for anyone earning below the real living wage who has been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test & Protect. Including households where their children have been asked to self-isolate. From the 11th of February, you can download a certificate of proof from the Protect Scotland App that you can give to your employer or use when claiming the self-isolation grant as proof that you need to self-isolate.

For more information on if you are entitled to it and how to access this grant visit mygov.scot.

If you're a student

Unlike students in higher education, most of those in further education can apply for benefits such as Universal Credit if they're unemployed, and colleges have the flexibility to offer discretionary funds to bridge the timing gap between bursary payments ending and Universal Credit payments starting. Courses to which this applies include:

  • National Qualification Framework level 3 or the Scottish Qualification framework level 6
  • General Certificate of Education Advanced level (A Level)
  • AS Level
  • Advanced Diploma
  • National Diploma, Certificate or Award
  • Level 3 NVQ, Award, Certificate or Diploma

For more information on accessing Universal Credit while you're in full-time education, visit the UK Government's website. For more information on the funds made available in June, visit Student Information Scotland.

If you are entitled to an Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

You will still receive your payments, even if you can't attend school or college because you:

  • you need to self-isolate
  • you have the virus
  • your school or college closes

Find out more about EMA here.

If you're a young parent

Changes to the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, Early Learning Payment and the School Age Payment mean that parents or carers under the age of 18 are automatically entitled to this payment – even if they are not on benefits. 

Support for funeral costs

Applications for Funeral Support Payment can be made up to six months following a funeral. 

If you're care-experienced

Who Cares? Scotland have received some funding from the Scottish Government to offer financial aid for Care Experienced People and Kinship Carers to relieve fuel, material and food poverty. They could support people to get immediate help for essential items such as food, heating, clothing, nappies, bedding, and furniture.

Apply for Winter Aid from Who Cares? Scotland

Extension of the Help to Buy scheme

The Scottish Government has announced the Help to Buy (Scotland) scheme has been extended to March 2022. For more information on the scheme, visit the Scottish Government Website.

More information and support

The Money Advice service has a great article guiding you through how to look after your finances during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Watch our CashChats series to hear from the experts on topics such as budgeting, saving, your rights and work and preparing to go to university. 

Learn more about the benefits you could be entitled to during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from Citizens Advice.

See how your current benefits may be impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19). Get support from Citizens Advice if you can't pay your bills because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

You can also speak to the Money Advice Service for free, impartial advice. Call 0800 138 7777, Monday to Friday 8am - 6pm. You can also contact them using WhatsApp to discuss debts, credit questions and pension guidance, just add +44 7701 342744 to your phone and send a message.

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Get more information about money management at Money & Me.