As we approach the anniversary of the beginning of COVID lockdown, I have taken some time to reflect on how the past year affected me. The year brought on changes, mostly ones that were outside of our control. But it has been an opportunity to consider aspects of my life that I had previously taken for granted. Some of the changes I made during this pandemic I plan to stick with long-term, and others I’m ready to leave in the dust as soon as it’s safe.
COVID Brought Financial Changes
Whether you had a reduction in income or not, almost everyone I’ve talked to expresses that their spending went down in the last year. Many of us started working from home. Not only did we drive less, but gas prices were low. I’m definitely guilty of some online clothes shopping, but mostly I found myself buying inexpensive loungewear since I was only occasionally going into the office and didn’t have any social events on the horizon to buy outfits for. My food spending also decreased – we had the time to plan better and consolidate our grocery shopping into fewer trips, so chances to drop impulse purchases in my cart shrank. I could go on and on about my reduced travel budget and the fact that it’s much cheaper to drink a craft beer at home than at a brewery, but I think you get the point and probably lived a similar experience.
Surplus Income – How to Use It
Along with decreased spending, I came to realize that I had a surplus in my budget that wasn’t there before. I took a look at my goals and started allocating this additional money. First, I looked at my retirement savings and decided to increase the percentage of my pay I am contributing to my 401(k) account. Then, I started thinking about my medium-term savings goals. I assigned a specific dollar amount to each goal and started earmarking deposits into my savings account every month when the automatic transfer from my checking went through. For example, I would really like to do some upgrades to my house without borrowing from home equity to fund the renovations, so I started saving money for this goal.
If you are also noticing that the balance in your accounts is growing and need to decide what to do with the money, consider designating it for a specific purpose. Then write down your goal, either on paper or in a spreadsheet. Writing it down makes you more likely to follow through, and helps give you permission to spend once you’ve reached the goal.
Looking Forward to Post-Pandemic Life
We don’t know exactly when herd immunity will be reached allowing us to go back to some semblance of normal life, but with vaccine rollouts in progress, the end is coming into view. I’m starting to day dream about what I’ll do when that day comes. My family has had some big milestones during this time, so maybe we’ll go out for a special, multi-course dinner to celebrate. And, I’m really looking forward to be able to travel by plane to places too far to reach by car. As a planner, not only am I dreaming about these exciting plans, but I’m also planning for them financially. If you’re making similar plans, I would really encourage you to think through the details. If you’re planning a trip, add together realistic amounts for a flight, lodging, rental car, etc. Once you have the total, divide it by the number of months until departure and start saving now! Use that surplus you’ve noticed in your budget to make your trip happen without borrowing money on a credit card.
Post Pandemic Budget?
The harder question for me is what to do with my budget once I am doing all the fun things again that the pandemic cut out. The truth is, even though I am a saver and there’s nothing like seeing a savings account balance grow, I do want to allow myself some permission to spend even if it might seem frivolous. Don’t we deserve some enjoyment after the last year? I think I will allow for some indulgences in my budget, within reason. I’m also better armed with knowledge of expenses I can easily do without. With that in mind, you will definitely find me paying too much for a craft beer at a local brewery on a sunny day again soon!