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How to Save More and Make More in 2021

Jean Chatzky  |  July 6, 2021

The rise in unemployment means more people are job hunting. Find out why 2021 is the year of the pay raise and how to keep an eye out for the best benefits.

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This Week In Your Wallet: Leftovers and Other Good News

As I’m writing this, it’s the day after the fourth of July, and I just had a piece of leftover barbecued chicken for lunch. Also, a little tomato salad (because the Jersey’s have finally started showing up and I can’t resist). I am avoiding the remaining slice of key lime pie, hoping that it will call to my husband so loudly before I lose my fortitude that it will vanish from my sight.

Do you know what this lunch cost me? Oh sure, I could tally the cost of the dinner I made Saturday night for a big group, measure the amount that was leftover, and divide it into portions. I choose not to. I choose to think of it in another way. This lunch saved me money, because if there weren’t leftovers to tuck into, I might have headed to the store to buy a sandwich or something – which is what I would have likely done if I was working not from home, but from my office.

I’m not the only one feeling this way. Some 60% of millennials and adult Gen Zers, 54% of Xers, and 47% of boomers say that remote work has been good for their finances.  And it’s not just the money we’re saving on food – though I have seen enough budgets to know that food is where you’re seeing a significant savings – it’s hopping on your bike to exercise, or taking a walk instead of paying for a class or gym membership. It’s the impulse purchases you’re not making because you haven’t been tempted in your everyday travels, and even some big things like going from two cars down to one, or three to two.  Anecdotally, some folks are talking about saving $1,000 or more a month by not spending.

Which is great! But as we start to transition back to the office or to a hybrid model, the onus will be on us to hold onto some of these pandemic habits. Would that piece of chicken have tasted just as good if I’d brown bagged it? Would I have thought to do that? Maybe not before the pandemic – but perhaps I will now. Reminder to self: Pack napkins.

The economy is not the market – explained

If you are a market watcher, or a follower of economic news, you have seen the following repeatedly. A piece of good or great economic news, like a great jobs or retail sales or consumer confidence number, is released. The market falls. Or, the reverse happens. We get a mediocre job number, a higher-than-expected inflation reading, and the market takes off like a shot.

What is up with that? Thanks to Wall Street Journal reporter Simon Constable who dug into this issue over the weekend. As he notes, the market’s reaction hinges on what it anticipates the Federal Reserve’s reaction will be. If a jobs number is meh, market-watchers figure that means the Fed will hold off on raising interest rates – which is good for both business and consumer borrowing. Up goes the Dow.  

The rub is that the good news can’t be too good – nor the bad too bad – for this little maxim to hold. If the bad news is so bad (as the original fallout from the COVID shutdown was) that it sends profits down substantially, it’s likely going to be lousy for the markets, too.   

And – and this is an important addition – this is one of those rules that only works until it doesn’t. “Interest rates have been so low for so long that it has long been anticipated that the next move in rates will be up,” he writes. “So until rates actually rise, or at least are expected to rise sooner than they are now, the market may continue to climb as the economy improves, some analysts say. And against that backdrop, bad news could lose some of its luster for the market.” 

And speaking of good news…

The June jobs report contained a decent amount of it. Don’t be dismayed about the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up from 5.8% in May to 5.9% last month. It was a reflection that more people are starting to look for jobs once again. That’s a good thing, as are the 850,000 jobs to payrolls and the fact that wages are up.

In fact, if you’re an employee looking for a time to make a move, perhaps to earn more money, perhaps to gain other benefits (more on that in a sec), it’s time. “This year is shaping up to be the year of the pay raise,” Heather Long writes for the Washington Post. Average pay in the restaurant industry in the US is now over $15 an hour. It’s still not enough for what is often incredibly hard, physical work, but a 6% bump over wages three months ago is significant. Jobs in hospitality and warehouses are also paying more.  

And if you’re an employer looking to hire, Gene Marks of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests rolling out unlimited vacay. It’s a perk that’s trending among corporations – about 20% offer it now compared with 14% two years ago – in part because it ranks very high on the benefits employees want most. (Paid leave is number one followed by the ability to work remotely and family leave).  Moreover, research has found it doesn’t have to cost as much as employers think it will – people don’t tend to take advantage.  The key is putting in place policies about how much notice you have to give before taking off (particularly for longer stints) and perhaps requiring a certain amount of tenure with the company before you qualify.  

Lost someone to COVID? Funeral funds may be available.

Finally, I haven’t seen enough written about the fact that FEMA has been providing funeral aid to those who lost loved ones to COVID, so as the rules are relaxed to make the money available to more people, I wanted to include it here.  Here’s the deal: Since April, FEMA has been accepting applications here to cover $9,000 in funeral expenses.   As Ann Carrns writes for The New York Times, originally, everyone had to have a “death certificate that specifically listed COVID-19 as the cause of death.”  

Unfortunately, for many of the pandemic’s earliest victims, COVID-19 wasn’t specified.  So, this week, the agency changed the rules. For deaths that happened between January 20, 2020 and May 16, 2020, the death certificate (while still required) doesn’t have to specify COVID. But you will need a letter signed by the certificate’s “certifying official, medical examiner or coroner,” attesting that COVID was the cause.

Finally, for all of my women readers (and the people who love them), I thought this piece on how women can get the most when applying for Social Security benefits was just excellent.  

Have a great week!


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