When it comes to work, this pandemic has been hard for so many people. Women—and BIPOC women in particular—are disappearing from the workforce. Lack of childcare or other family circumstances have pushed women out, as well as job losses from industries disappearing or downsizing. I happen to be a part of a workforce where my industry is disappearing: I work in film and theater. While I know some things are still filming and virtual theater is still an option, the volume has decreased significantly for these industries that were already pretty niche to begin with.
I’ve been incredibly lucky because my partner’s job was not affected by the pandemic in the same way. With his salary (while not six-figures by any means) we have been able to get by. Here are some of the things my husband and I did to help us navigate going from a two-income household to one, during the pandemic.
1. Figure out which bills can wait
I was paying our car payment from my income. I had been slightly overpaying each bill originally, so we actually didn’t have to make any payments for some time. But we were so close to paying our car off that the idea of dropping it was really hard for me. But I needed to face the reality of no income. We looked into it, and our interest rate was going to stay steady through the end of 2021. That may not be everyone’s reality, but we took this framework to all of our bills.
Student loan payments have also been frozen. As much as the debt keeps me stressed, we said to ourselves: while it may take longer to pay them off, we have the grace to not deal with interest right now. So we gave ourselves a break and stopped making payments altogether. Ask yourself where you can work with the institution and cut any non-necessary payments.
2. Meal plan for less waste
I am not good at spreadsheets or things that require that level of organization. But my husband gently pointed out that when we plan less, we waste more food, and we end up getting fast food or takeout more often than we can afford right now. So on Sundays we sit down and talk through what we have in the fridge and come up with meals throughout the week. It’s not that we don’t improvise (I’m incapable of sticking to a plan perfectly), but we have a much clearer understanding of where we can bend.
Also—diets are horrible in general, but I had really internalized a low-carbs mentality decades ago. I gave myself permission to bring potatoes back into my diet in a real way, and adding potatoes to many dishes can help you stretch the food so that you can eat it for more meals while still staying full. There are also different kinds of canned beans in my pantry that can sit there for years (usually) that I’ve started incorporating into more meals. Frozen veggies can be a nice touch as well.
Thinking through the cheapest products with the highest nutritional value and fill factor has helped two meals turn into four. Plus I forgot how delicious potatoes are.
3. Online exchanges and marketplaces are your friends
We have been preparing a bedroom for the final steps of licensing for fostering a child. We have been trying to expand our family for several years and felt devastated that we might not be able to do it given the massive loss of income. When our licensing worker told us we needed furniture, etc., I think I must have looked lost. She gently let us know there’s no need to spend a ton of money—there are online groups that we can look into to get things either super cheap or for free.
Once I realized all the things I ‘needed to purchase’ to become a mom didn’t need to be new, it became so much easier. I posted to Buy Nothing groups on Facebook, which are usually neighborhood-to-neighborhood, and got really savvy at buying things super cheap on Facebook Marketplace. I was able to get a crib, dresser, rocker, clothes, and cloth diapers all for under $200. Some of it needed a little elbow grease or a fresh coat of paint, but I had access to leftover paint from previous projects and I got to it. It even gave me the opportunity to make the furniture my own.
4. Make and create your own rules
My mom once told me that just because people are having a hard time financially doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to enjoy life just as everyone else does. This has stuck to me so much throughout life. Once our income dropped, I was very adamant that we cut out every single excess we had in our budget. But that would include our Netflix subscription or would mean that I wasn’t allowed to whip up a crazy meal that I had thought of and researched. That thought depressed me so much, but I couldn’t see a way around it.
… Just because people are having a hard time financially doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to enjoy life.
Instead of axing everything immediately, we had thoughtful conversations around what we could keep. We kept our Netflix subscription, but we made a rule not to rent/purchase movies or TV shows. We give ourselves $50 to play with every month that I can use to make a fancier dish or meal or two. This way we don’t feel like we are punishing ourselves for going through hardship, but we are giving ourselves parameters that allow us to live within these new means.
5. Remembering the word “yet”
My friend’s therapist told her to add the word yet to sentences and see if it changed how she viewed the situation. “I’m not able to buy that, yet.” “I can’t make that meal, yet.” “I can’t clean my house, yet.” All of a sudden, instead of feeling like a failure, you end up reminding yourself that this is only a moment on our timelines; because you are struggling right now doesn’t mean you necessarily will be struggling forever.
Giving myself permission to be in the muck for now, but not forever, has changed my mental health around the income loss significantly. I have worked ever since I was 12 years old, so losing the income was significant, but losing the work also felt like I was losing myself as well. Reminding myself that this a temporary state has been crucial to unraveling my anxiety.
6. Reach out to your local community
The most helpful thing was also tapping into mutual aid networks throughout Chicago. If you don’t know about mutual aid, I will save my giant gushing about it for another article, but here is a primer if you’d like to learn more. Here’s how I used mutual aid; I couldn’t always contribute any goods or money to others, but I was able to offer my time as a resource and ask for help in return.
I found a lot of these groups through my local alderperson and social media. It was scary to ask at first, but after I reached out for support, it was incredible to see the ways in which people could help me and how I could help them. It didn’t feel at all like charity, more like a family who is trying to help each other the best they can. Just that the family is extended beyond your personal network.
This pandemic has been hard on everyone. These are some of the tips that have helped our family stay afloat, while maintaining a semblance of ourselves. My hope is they might help someone else weathering the same storm.