The lesson to retain about positioning your brand in the Covid Era? Lean In To What Makes You, You.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, you’ve been working hard on business plans, raising funds, building the perfect team, and doing everything else you needed to do to hit the ground running once you were ready and the world was “back to normal.”
So, you have a startup that’s ready for the world?
But so much has happened that couldn’t have been predicted a year ago. And it seems like there is no going back to normal. So, how do you position a brand in the era of Covid? Or, fingers crossed, the post-Covid era?
The good news is, brand positioning and branding, in general, are naturally adaptable practices. The world changes, consumer needs change, markets change, the art of branding takes all that into account. It’s just that, this time, things have changed faster than usual. It feels disorienting.
Are you sitting on an e-commerce startup?
Let’s assume you’re sitting on an ecommerce startup. Many of the steps to position your new brand will be the same as ever, but COVID-19 has added new factors to consider
And even the most avowed techno-optimism would agree that the extreme changes to consumer behavior caused by the covid crisis are likely to be further magnified at some point soon, as the effects of climate change really begin to bite.
An Agile Business is Always a Good Business
My point here is not to spread doom and gloom, but to hammer home the idea that we can’t see the current period of upheaval as something that we can “wait out.” Whether it’s temporary or a part of larger changes, a good business is an agile business.
Grab a piece of it for yourself.
In a way, this is an opportunity to become a leader in a new landscape — plenty of less astute and adaptable brands won’t make it — leaving gaps in the market. Add to the gaps and find new areas of consumer interest, and you can see that we’re heading into a time of real opportunity.
But before we can work out how best to position an ecommerce startup’s brand for the covid era, we need to take a look at what has changed.
How have consumers adjusted their behavior after a year in and out of lockdowns?
What Consumers Want in the Covid Era
Given that Covid has, according to McKinsey, covered ‘a decade in days’ in terms of consumers adapting to digital services and experiences, there’s no doubt that after all of the upheaval of the pandemic, consumers are feeling wrong-footed.
The somewhat strange feeling has had a few different effects on the population. Firstly, many consumers are feeling negative about the economic future of the country they live in. This kind of economic pessimism drives consumers back to core values they tend to hold — plus, it makes many people spend less money or, at least, spend more carefully.
On the other hand, during the pandemic, many consumers have tried new ways of shopping, be that shopping online rather than in stores, or simply trying new brands and companies for both products and services.
People want to try new stuff.
People may be more wedded than ever to their core values, but they are also more open than ever to try out new brands that represent those values! Illustrating this, consumers responding to a McKinsey survey cited quality and purpose as two of the main reasons they have tried new brands recently or would do so soon.
What are the values that people are so attached to at the moment and looking for in new brands?
That depends on what kind of consumers you’re looking to attract.
At Squadhelp, we recently conducted a study into brand positioning. We were trying to determine which demographics react well to modern branding and which respond better to classic, historied branding.
The question we asked:
The question we asked just over 300 people was as follows: “Would you be more interested in working with a new, innovative company or a historied, trusted organization?”
Our findings weren’t all that surprising, but they were surprisingly definitive. We found the following:
25-34-year-olds strongly prefer new and innovative branding. Just over 50% more of these participants chose new and innovative than chose historied and trusted
35-45-year-olds prefer new and innovative branding, but this group was pretty evenly split between the two options.
Both 45-54-year-olds, and 55-65-year-olds are more interested in historied and trusted organizations
55-65-year-olds were the most drawn to historied and trusted branding, with almost twice as many participants preferring this option compared to innovative brand names
Men were found to have little to no preference in siding with trusted brand names compared to those that are innovative
Women were more likely to choose the historic and trusted brands, with just under 60% of our female participants siding with this option
Overall, out of 301 participants, 153 opted towards historic and trusted and 148 went for new and innovative, which means that each direction can be a great choice, depending on who you want to engage with as a brand.
The clearest piece of data here is the difference in preferences for older and younger consumers — but predictable — it has always been thus…
Younger consumers like innovative, new brands; older consumers want historied and trusted brands (or at least, brands positioned to seem historied and trusted).
It’s intuitive to assume that, in times of crisis, people will look towards places and brands that are comforting and strong.
People are looking for brands that elicit confidence — and this has been borne out by recent research. But the kind of brands that illicit confidence varies between age groups — older consumers want history; younger customers see strength and trustworthiness in innovation.
The Importance of Brand Tone for Positioning Brand — Nail that Tone!
When you position your brand on that spectrum between historied and trusted, and innovative and new — you are making the first steps towards choosing a brand tone.
The tone, in turn, is the first step towards naming your brand and all the marketing, advertising, communication, and day-to-day decision-making that will flow forth from that name choice. So, what has Covid changed about brand tone?
If anything, Covid has made picking the correct brand tone even more crucial to the success of your new ecommerce startup. If you nail that tone, consumers will trust you. They’ll become your customers.
The five most popular brand tones are:
Remember, any one of these tones could be right for your business if it’s a tone that will appeal to the sort of target customer profile you have built and want to bring in. That being said, the tone should also work for your business. If you make custom gravestones, you probably won’t be going for “fun” in your business message, for example.
If you’re a B2C ecommerce business, selling mostly to millennials and gen z, on the other hand, you should aim for intriguing, fun, or potentially emotional if it fits your product.
These are brand tones that reflect the core values younger consumers hold dear. In other words, these are the brand tones that make millennials and gen z feel safe — something we all need during Covid — to feel safe. Have you nailed the safety factor?
Choosing a Name
The most important initial decision you need to make as a business owner once you have decided on a brand tone is the name for your startup.
Naming your company is a multistep process, and it’s neither a quick nor easy process — but don’t be disheartened by that fact. No name is a magic bullet, after all. You are trying to avoid a bad name, not come up with a perfect name. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect name.
If you need some help starting the engine, you can use a business name generator. For example, the Squadhelp company lets you enter your industry, keywords, and emotions you want to evoke. When you enter the information, make sure that the name ideas it suggests fit with your brand tone.
The match between name and brand tone is crucial.
Watch the match between name and brand tone. How else will potential customers know, on sight (or on hearing), what your brand tone and, ultimately, your brand values are?
At this stage, tone, industry relevance, and emotions should pretty much be your only concerns. So if you’re working in a group, write all those key things down on a whiteboard and just start throwing names out into the room.
This is the brainstorming stage, and the key is to throw as much as possible at the wall and see what sticks.
As a rule of thumb, innovative brands like a new B2C that are positioned somewhere around “fun” and “intriguing” tend to be successful with names that are misspelling, blends, transmutations, or compounds.
Why not try coming up with a few of each? Here are some examples.
- Misspelled: Lyft, nimbl, Mohawx
- Compound: SnapChat, SplitWav, WhatsApp
- Blends: Groupon, Yuconic, Winvested
- Made Up/Abstract: Orizia, Itorix
- Transmutations: Zappos, Zumba
If your name clearly indicates the position of your brand — more consumers will pick up what you’re putting down. In addition, they will find themselves immediately aligning with your new business.
Once you have a whole list of appropriate names, you can start to weed out anything that is awkward to say or spell, and anything either tonally off or potentially problematic. At least, anything you see as such.
When the list is down to ten or fewer names — it is time to do some audience testing.
Testing your potential name lets you see if your target audience actually responds to the tone and name you have chosen. Of course, you want the audience to respond in one way — but that doesn’t always happen. If you get no response — you just go back to the drawing board; no big deal. You can’t force people to like your choice; they either will like it — or not. And people as a group will respond to the best or the correct name.
Easy to change your name or tone — fix it — at this point.
Don’t press on if you’re not getting the reaction you want from your target demographic — they won’t suddenly all change their core values because once you have sunk money into a domain and a trademark. It’s easy to make changes now and will be much, much harder later.
Although you want to focus on your intended demographic at the testing stage, it’s important to make sure audience testing is also intersectional. Remember what I said about weeding out anything potentially problematic? A wide cross-section of people will be able to cover that far better than a narrow group of testers with similar values and experiences.
After testing names, you’ll probably be down to just one or two. There might not be the fanfare you expected for this momentous moment, but you have your name. Remember, no name will build your brand for you, but a good name becomes a great name by its association over time.
What’s a google??
No one knew what Google was twenty years ago. But now it’s a verb. And most of us also know it’s a really, really big number. But that’s not even important at this point.
Of course, naming your startup is only the beginning of cementing your brand positioning. But once you have both a name and a brand statement, the rest will flow more naturally. Just keep your brand statement and your core values in mind with everything you do from here on out with your business.
Return to your base (name and brand statement) before making any major branding decision. Then, ask, does this fit with our values? Does it fit with who we are?
Future-Proofing Your Business for Positioning Your Brand in the Covid Era
There are many approaches to future-proofing a business. Of course, practical concerns like financial buffers and sustainable practices are all key to keeping a business running for the long term. But so is branding.
While it might sometimes feel safer to hover in the middle, offering everyone a little bit of what they want, but nobody all of it, the research (and my lived experience) tell us that’s a poor choice to make.
Strong branding has been important throughout covid, and it will remain important in the future, whether there are further global crises or not. If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that anything can happen.
And when that “anything” does happen — consumers lean harder than ever into their preferences and values.
Future-proof your brand by making sure it has personality.
You need your customers to know exactly what you stand for and who you are. In other words, build strong relationships while times are good, so that you can weather times that aren’t.
The mighty pivot
Of course, we have all seen the importance of being able to pivot over the past year too. Maybe you will, at some point, have to adapt to new ways of working or to your customers’ changed lives.
The one thing you can never pivot on, though?
Your brand positioning.
Image Credit: kindel media; pexels; thank you!
5 Ways To Better Reach Your Audience
Attempting to reach your audience is difficult, as the internet is full of information, and consumers are flooded with the constant noise of advertising, social media, and email. It can be intimidating for a company to get its message heard over the noise. However, with a bit of care and planning, you can successfully reach your target demographic and interest them in your product.
Maybe you’re a new business with a great product and want to know how to drive traffic to your site. Or perhaps you’re established but have something fresh and exciting to offer, and you need to know how to spotlight it. Maybe you’re interested in learning how to reach a whole new demographic and are unsure how to do that.
To reach out to a new audience online, keep your existing customers interested, or drive conversions, you need to plan your content strategy and SEO carefully. It’s not enough just to launch a product website, announce it on social media, and wait to see what happens. Instead, you’ve got to find a way to amplify your voice.
Initiating a Strategy
Content encompasses everything you use to communicate information to the world: social media, graphics, written communication, and your website itself are included in this category. Your content strategy and SEO should tackle the questions: Who am I trying to reach, What do I need to tell them, and How am I going to do that? MarketMuse’s extensive content strategy guide notes that an effective content strategy outlines business goals and aligns with SEO.
Depending on your company’s scale, you may want to hire someone to help you develop a strategy, manage a team of writers, designers, and developers, and keep an eye on metrics to ensure your messaging is on target and getting the results you need. However, be aware that it can take six months or more to gain traction and that there are some questions you’ll want to ask when hiring an SEO expert.
Here are five steps you can take today to ensure that you successfully communicate about your brand to reach your intended audience.
1. Identify who you want to reach
Regardless of company scale or team size, an effective content strategy begins with research and planning. This step can be time-consuming but is so important. It’s the foundation for building your overall content strategy.
The first rule of content is: know your audience. Who are you trying to talk to and why? Get as specific as you can in this step. For example, identify an age range, gender, if applicable, socioeconomic status, and interests. It is sometimes helpful to create an avatar or character to represent your target market and talk specifically to that person. If you nail your demographic, your message will carry.
Once you know who you’re targeting, make sure what you’re saying to them makes sense. For example, promoting your retirement savings 101 blog cluster and planning tools will not be effective if your language and approach only appeal to a 60-year-old.
2. Sell a lifestyle, not a product
This is one of the trickiest elements of content marketing strategy for any company to master. But, first, it’s important to remember that content isn’t about directly promoting a product or about making a sale. At least, not overtly.
Content strategy is about building relationships and offering something your audience values and needs: information. If your information is solid and you get it in front of the right people, you will build trust and drive conversions over time. It’s helpful to think about strategies employed by large brands – especially what they don’t do.
Athletic shoe companies don’t bore you with all the technical specs of their product; they show you an image of athletes running fast or thriving in their sport. They let you imagine yourself succeeding in the same way. Similarly, the best tech companies don’t talk about RAM or GPUs in their ads. Instead, they show you how sleek you look with the latest gadget. They show you how much that gadget will simplify your daily tasks.
If you work too hard to tell your audience about the details of your product (which may be exciting and important) in your content marketing, you’re going to bore them and lose them.
3. Make sure your content is on point
Great content isn’t necessarily about volume. If what you’re offering is sound, you don’t have to drone on forever. For example, we’re all annoyed by recipe blogs that make you scroll through five pages of irrelevant nonsense to get to what’s of value to you: the recipe.
If you want to avoid being the next recipe blog cliche, ensure your writing and graphics are clean and clearly communicate the data or insights you want to highlight. Plan social media posts to be playful and fun and get to the point right away. Attention spans are minimal when people are scrolling.
Your written content (emails, blogs, website copy) should be clean, clearly written, and well structured. Organize your site to include a search feature, ensure it is responsive to various devices and has multiple easy-to-find navigation options. The key is to eliminate the need for your audience to work to find what they want.
4. Use your digital tools thoughtfully
To ensure your content rises above all that noise online, you absolutely need to include SEO in your content strategy. This is where brands can get a little intimidated, confused, or overzealous, however.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is not as esoteric as you might think, but it takes time, research, and effort to implement correctly. SEO can include keywords that help ensure your page shows up in search results, your website’s design and security, and your site’s responsiveness to different screen sizes.
So, what does that mean? Well, the answer to that may vary, but a few essential points will put you on the right track. First, you want to ensure you’re not basing your content strategy on SEO considerations and keywords.
The result will be that your content feels shoehorned around obvious keywords (because it is) and won’t offer much value to readers. Maybe you’ll appear in search results, but that won’t do anything for you once people click on your page and decide there’s nothing valuable. At that point, you’ve lost trust. You may also lose those initial clicks as search algorithms constantly evolve.
The key is ensuring you are offering quality information to your target audience. Make sure that information is clear and that your website is navigable, and then find ways to work in keywords naturally. Also, don’t be afraid to use social media to toot your horn.
5. Post often and repurpose content
In addition to optimizing your website and content, you’ll want to plan a solid social media strategy and use appropriate posting techniques to boost your web traffic and conversions. The good news is that not everything you post has to reinvent the wheel. For example, it is ok to repurpose the same link with slightly different messaging.
It’s also important to remember to post on different platforms for different reasons. If you’re trying to talk to a Gen Z demographic, you’re probably not going to be successful if your entire social media presence is based on Facebook. You might look at Instagram or TikTok instead.
As with blog and website content, you’re not going to be effective if you simply post ad copy on social media. Instead, find innovative and fun ways to draw your audience in. Make them laugh. Tell them how to solve a problem. Teach them a new skill.
And don’t forget to update your blog copy, too. For example, you might have a blog that predicts the best crypto investments in March. You can create an updated version in April without starting from scratch.
If you take the time to do your homework, develop a solid plan, allow your strategy appropriate time to work, and measure results (and use those to revise your plan, and so on), you have a solid foundation for your content marketing presence. Make sure your content is tailored to the right audience, easy to read, easy to navigate, and actionable, and you can’t go wrong.
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska; Pexels; Thanks!
Connected Medical Devices are Revolutionizing Health Care
The Internet of Things (IoT) may be about to transform almost every aspect of people’s lives. Health care is one industry already seeing significant adoption of IoT technology. Connected medical devices are helping doctors and nurses remotely monitor patients, access health data, and conduct follow-ups online. As a result, IoT in health care could revolutionize the industry over the next few years.
How Does the Health Care Industry Use Connected Devices?
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) includes various devices used inside and outside health care facilities. In most cases, these items provide a few of the same benefits — including streamlined treatment, reduced risk of error, and greater availability of critical data, like information on patient vitals.
Smart Patient Monitoring Devices
One popular application of IoT in health care is the smart patient monitor. This device continuously collects health care information from a patient, including data on heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and blood oxygen levels.
These devices help make patient health data more accessible to doctors and nurses inside facilities. A patient’s medical team can quickly and remotely check their vitals from a hospital workstation or a secure device anywhere in the world. The smart patient monitor can also alert staff if someone’s vitals exceed safe levels.
Smart health care wearables and remote patient monitors allow doctors to continue tracking patient vitals without requiring them to remain in the facility. In addition, people who have been recently discharged from the hospital may bring smart patient monitors with them, allowing them to send important health information to doctors without having to return to the hospital for a follow-up. They can also access this information and get a valuable window into their post-release health.
The patient and their doctor can discuss any concerning health information over the internet using a telemedicine video call solution. The doctor can also immediately recall the patient to the hospital if the monitor suggests their health is in danger.
Various IoMT patient monitoring devices exist, ranging from large machines built for hospital settings to lightweight health-tracking wearables people can take with them wherever they go.
Specific use-cases for IoMT monitoring technology include general-purpose smart patient monitors, motion sensors that track the progression of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and mood sensors that can help doctors manage a patient’s mental health.
Smart Infusion Pumps and Medication Delivery Devices
Correctly dosing and delivering medicine is essential for patient treatment. However, medication errors remain a common challenge in many medical environments. These mistakes can cause serious injuries or adverse reactions that can lead to death.
The IoMT can help prevent medication errors by streamlining the dosing process and delivering IV medicine.
Smart infusion pumps are medication delivery devices that use innovative technology, barcode readers, and drug information libraries to reduce risk when administering IV medicine. The health care worker will designate an area of use — like the adult ICU or NICU — which will automatically configure the pump based on needs. The clinician will then select the medicine they need to administer from an internet drug library, select a concentration and configure the pump’s dose.
Information from the drug library will help prevent some of the most common medication errors — like dosing mistakes and combinations that may lead to health problems.
Some pumps may require that the clinician scans the drug using a barcode on its packaging rather than choosing one from a list.
Most pump systems incorporate a few safeguards that will help reduce the frequency of medication errors. For example, the pump may include the height and weight information of the patient receiving a drug, helping ensure they receive the appropriate dose.
The pump system may also include information on average drug concentrations and dosing units. As a result, it can double-check with health care workers to ensure an unusual dosage is correct, potentially preventing medication errors.
Smart Device Scanners
Manufacturers will often use laser marking to create a unique device identifier (UDI) codes on the surface of connected medical devices like orthopedic implants and medical instruments. They provide a wealth of information about the marked device — including the specific version or model number.
Under current regulations, the manufacturer must provide this code in plain language and a machine-readable format.
Smart medical scanners can read the second version of the UDI instantly, draw on relevant information from cloud-based databases and update records. This makes them a powerful tool for conducting inventory, determining an instrument’s specific model or lot number, and verifying the plain-language portion of a UDI.
These devices are connected to the internet, so they can also be used to update cloud-based records as they scan automatically. For example, hospitals that maintain an online database of critical medical instruments can use a smart scanner to update it with new products.
In practice, these scanners can also make it much easier for health care organizations to comply with traceability requirements. For example, clinicians can use information from the UDI to quickly verify the model number, expiration date, and recall status of a medical instrument or device before it is used.
Clinicians that locate faulty or expired equipment can quickly remove it, ensuring it won’t be used for a procedure.
Smart Pills, Capsules and Medications
New smart pills and capsules can help patients take their medications regularly. They are outfitted with special sensors that activate when they hit the acid in a patient’s stomach. They then communicate with a wearable medical device — like a patch on someone’s chest — signaling that the pill has been taken.
The wearable device that receives the signal can automatically generate a log or report showing the medication was taken successfully.
The connected medical device can also track other information — like the patient’s activity and rest times.
The first smart pill approved by the FDA was Abilify Mycite, which contains aripiprazole, an antipsychotic used to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Patients with these conditions may struggle to remember if they’ve taken their medicine, but missing a dose can cause adverse reactions — including nausea, lightheadedness, anxiety, and a return of symptoms associated with the mental health condition the aripiprazole is meant to treat.
The smart system can help patients track their medication adherence and review patterns when they take their medicine.
Smart pills are not widely used yet, but they may soon help patients and health care providers improve medication adherence and track home-usage.
Future smart pills may also provide additional functionality. For example, those containing onboard sensors could help doctors track a patient’s core temperature, detect intestinal bleeding, or keep tabs on gut health. Many of these pills already exist in an experimental capacity and may become commercially viable by the end of the decade.
The Future of Connected Medical Devices and IoT in Health Care
Connected medical devices can make providing effective health treatment much easier. The right one can streamline care, reduce error risk, and simplify record-keeping.
IoT in health care is growing fast over the next few years. According to Fortune Business Insights, the market may be worth as much as $187.6 billion by 2028, up from just $41 billion in 2020. As a result, new applications of smart medical technology may become widely available.
For example, it may also become standard for health care facilities to adopt connected robots, like those used in Italian hospitals during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently used IoMT devices — from smart monitors to smart pills — will likely become much more common over the next few years as the market expands and health care facilities look to adopt devices that make daily work easier.
Image Credit: Provided by the Author; National Cancer Institute; Unsplash; Thank you!
How to Stop Inflation from Deflating Your Savings
No, you aren’t imagining things. Everything costs more than it did before, and these higher prices make it hard to balance the budget while saving and thinking about retirement. But you can stop inflation from deflating your savings!
In April, the Bureau of Labor released the latest data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI), revealing inflation’s steady creep upward hasn’t stopped yet. The rate of U.S. inflation climbed to a whopping 8.5% in March, marking this spike as the most significant increase in the cost of living in 4 decades.
You aren’t alone if you’re struggling to handle prices at their 40-year high. Nearly half of Americans (45%) polled by Gallup last year admitted inflation caused financial hardship at a time when the CPI was just 6.8%. Moreover, of those that reported facing difficulties, 10% revealed their challenges impacted their standard of living.
While the Federal Reserve claims inflation’s bubble will pop soon, experts anticipate the CPI won’t fall below 4% by the year’s end. That means you can expect another year of high inflation bumping up prices.
Is your budget ready? If not, don’t panic. Instead, keep reading to understand more about inflation and what you can do to protect your savings.
Inflation: An Overview
Inflation is not a product of the pandemic, although it may initially seem that way. On the contrary, between lockdowns and labor shortages — and now the Russia-Ukraine crisis — the past 3 years have kept inflation well-fed.
These special circumstances allowed inflation to grow to dizzying heights, but it’s been around a lot longer than COVID.
Have you ever heard your dad tell you a story about buying a bag of candy for a nickel, only for your grandfather to chime in to say he bought the same thing for a penny? They aren’t just yearning for the good old days of their youth. That’s inflation at work.
Inflation is an economic principle describing how the prices of goods and services generally increase over time. Another way to think of it is how your money — or what’s called your purchasing power — decreases in value as time goes on.
Usually, inflation only increases by around 2% each year. And if you’re lucky, your employer matches this increase with an equivalent raise. This zero-sum game means a lot of people may not notice inflation. Sure, things cost more, but you also earn more, so it all evens out.
The problem with today’s record-breaking inflation rate is that prices are climbing far too fast for wages to keep up. While employers have been handing out raises, a survey shows they averaged 3.4% in 2021, less than half of today’s current inflation rate.
With inflation and wages out of balance, you may notice how your dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to before the pandemic. Each expense takes up more of your very finite budget as a result.
Americans Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck
Now that everything costs more, many Americans are feeling the financial crunch. According to CNBC, nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) live paycheck to paycheck today. This isn’t necessarily new. In fact, survey after survey has revealed people have been living this way for nearly a decade.
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, most, if not all, of your monthly income goes towards making ends meet. With your income tied up with bills, you may have practically no cash for anything else.
Your Paycheck May Not Go As Far — But Don’t Deflate Your Savings
It’s hard to keep up with your savings goals when you live like this. You might even hit pause on savings altogether. And without contributing to savings, Americans increasingly turn to credit cards and short-term personal loans for help in an emergency.
CNBC reports that 56% of Americans could not handle an unexpected $1,000 expense with savings. Most of those without savings would charge credit cards or ask a loved one for some help. But others would go into debt and borrow money online via short-term personal loans to cover unexpected expenses.
While credit cards and short-term personal loans function as emergency backups in unexpected cash crunches, they’re meant as temporary stopgaps for singular expenses. Moreover, borrowing money won’t solve the issue that high inflation is an ongoing problem that will long outlast most cash advances and personal loan terms.
More still, debt can add to your money troubles. If you’re already living paycheck to paycheck, you may not have the cash available to repay your personal loan on time. Late fines and extra interest are soon to follow.
Updating Your Budget with Inflation in Mind
Americans point to high costs preventing them from saving as much as they want, regardless of whether they rely on credit cards or short-term personal loans as crutches.
Unfortunately, there’s no telling just how long high inflation will hang around. Still, one thing is for sure: a higher-than-normal inflation rate will affect prices for the foreseeable future.
Higher prices are the new normal, so it’s time to tweak your budget, updating it for another expensive year. Let’s dive into how you can do that.
1. Make a List of Priorities
When things are tight, you need a plan of action to understand your next move. So sit down and write out your list of priorities. These expenses are the absolute essentials you need to pay each month to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.
Besides housing costs and groceries, this list may include insurance payments, utilities, basic household items, and toiletries. In addition, the minimum payments for personal loans, cash advances, and lines of credit also belong on this list. These minimum payments will help you avoid late fines, extra interest, and credit damage.
This list shows the bare minimum for what you need each month. It serves as a good reminder of what you need to pay first before moving on to other things.
2. Cut Discretionary Expenses
As judge, jury, and executioner of expenses, you should be looking to slash non-essential spending until you have more wiggle room in your budget. Then, the unnecessary expenses (i.e., those you don’t need to lead a safe or comfortable life) should be on the chopping block.
Which expenses didn’t make it on your list of priorities? It can be daunting to say goodbye to the fun things in life, but it’s easier to let go knowing it won’t be forever. You can reintroduce the non-essentials when you start to feel less pressure.
To help you get started, here are some discretionary expenses you can cut:
- Streaming services: If you have multiple streaming subscriptions, pare them down to the one you use most often.
- Subscription boxes: While the average subscription box doesn’t cost a lot, it may be too much if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Put them on pause until you have more wiggle room in your budget.
- Gym memberships: The average gym membership costs about $600 a year. You can pocket that change by switching to a free at-home workout.
- Takeout: According to The Fool, the average American spends $2,375 on takeout a year. If you eat out multiple times a week, you stand to save a lot by eating at home.
- Alcohol: Happy hours after work and wine with dinner add up. Going dry can help you free up more cash for bills.
Finding it hard to say no when you’re out and about? Apply the 30-day rule. In other words, wait for 30 days before you commit to the purchase. A month is long enough to take the wind out of your sails, revealing the splurge for what it is: a waste of money.
3. Automate Savings
Even at this time, savings are an essential part of your budget. It can help you weather unexpected emergencies, reducing how often you tap into credit cards and short-term personal loans.
Admittedly, saving through high inflation is challenging, so you might want to ignore the usual advice to save 3 to 6 months. But, that’s a goal for another day.
For now, save as much as you can to get started, even if it’s just $10 a month at first. Financial advisor David Ramsey suggests lowering your goal to $1,000 when you’re first starting out.
4. Tweak Your Phone and Internet Package
Having a phone and access to the Internet is as close to essentials as possible nowadays. You might need them for work, or it may be the only way you can contact the outside world. So cutting these expenses for the sake of saving money just doesn’t make sense.
If you’re on an unlimited plan, consider downsizing to a cheaper plan with strict data and talk limits. Be careful not to exceed these limits to ensure you aren’t penalized. You stand to save even more each month if you can stomach a prepaid contract.
5. Update Your Insurance
Like your phone and Internet packages, insurance is another essential with some wiggle room. But first, you’ll want to do some research. Go online to compare other insurance companies to see what they offer. Then, when talking to your current provider, you can leverage this info to know if they’re willing to match the competition.
Another thing you can leverage is your loyalty. If you’ve been with the company for a long time, bring this history up while talking to your provider. They might be willing to cut you a better deal knowing you’re thinking about jumping ship.
You may also get a better deal if you’re willing to bundle your life, home, and auto insurance under one company.
6. Eat Better for Less
Putting food on the table has never been more expensive. But, unfortunately, you can’t precisely cut groceries from your budget!
Meat and dairy have been some of the hardest-hit items in the grocery stores, with bacon, eggs, and beef taking most of the brunt. Now that bacon is 26% more expensive per pound than last year, you might think twice about including it on your breakfast plate.
Plant-based eating promises some financial savings at the grocery store, especially if you stay away from costly prepared meat replacements. Instead, focus on tried-and-true cheap ingredients like lentils and rice.
Following a meal plan is also another great way to keep your spending in check at the supermarket. Make a list of meals you want to eat every week, adjusting your plan for weekly flyers and coupons.
7. Use Less Energy
Your utility bills are taking a bigger bite of your budget, like electricity, water, and gas cost more. According to the Guardian, utility prices in the U.S. rose by 33% last year.
Reducing energy consumption across these utilities can help you control runaway expenses.
One of the biggest things you can do to save is set your thermostat according to the Department of Energy’s recommendations. These tips can help you save as much as 10% of your annual heating and cooling costs.
Summer: If you have an air conditioner running, set it to 78°F when you’re at home. Try increasing the temperature as high as you feel comfortable when you’re out.
Winter: During the cooler months, try to keep your thermostat to 68°F while you’re at home, reducing it even lower when you’re at work or in bed.
8. Reduce Your Fuelling Costs
Between inflation and the Russia-Ukraine crisis squeezing the American fuel supply, drivers can expect to spend more at the pumps. If you can’t reduce how often you’re behind the wheel, you should download an app like GasBuddy to find the lowest gas prices in your area.
More often than not, this ends up being Costco, but they don’t get a membership just to qualify for their gas. So you probably won’t save more at their pumps than what it costs to become an annual member.
Another way to keep your driving costs low is by using gas station loyalty cards so that you can redeem points as often as possible. You can also consider carpooling with local friends and colleagues to share the burden of driving.
9. Learn How to Negotiate
The art of negotiation is a hard-earned skill that can do wonders for your budget. Depending on your strategy and your creditor’s policies, you can push out due dates to take the pressure off your budget and reduce what you owe.
If you aren’t sure how to persuade big companies, check out this script for guidance. When it comes to medical expenses specifically, ask if they offer a financial plan that offsets your costs. In many cases, healthcare businesses are willing to give you a discount if you offer to pay the reduced amount in full immediately.
10. Investigate Financial Assistance
Let’s face it — juggling all your bills as inflation nudges them higher, and higher is hard. Sometimes, not even your best attempts at negotiating bills and saving money at the grocery store will be enough to help you balance your budget.
Reach out to a free credit counseling organization for advice. They can provide more significant insights into how to shrink your budget. But more importantly, they can direct you towards government assistance programs that help you offset the burden of your living expenses.
The Takeaway for :
Although inflation is beyond your control, there are ways you can get back in the financial driver’s seat. As prices continue to rise, your budget is your most crucial resource throughout it all. You can refer to this spending plan to understand your priorities and focus on areas of your spending that need work.
You can reduce your monthly spending and save more, whether it’s unnecessary splurges or excessive fuel spending. Keep these tips in mind for the rest of the year.
But more importantly, know that you aren’t alone in facing these prices. There are resources you can fall back on for more guidance if you can’t balance the budget, no matter how hard you try.
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