Since March of 2020, recent college graduate Emily Shutman says she went from subscribing to two streaming services to essentially “all of them.” After earning her diploma in May, Shutman started a full-time job in consulting and has since become financially independent. She says that spending more money on streaming services has helped keep her entertained since her regular social activities have been limited.
Shutman’s experience is just one example of the countless ways in which the pandemic has transformed our lives. We’ve been forced to work from home, muddle through with limited (or non-existent) childcare options, and cancel literally all of our vacations. Because of this, 2020 required a complete budget overhaul for millions of us. Maybe at first we thought we could get by without tightening our budgets since we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last… but now we know our “return to normal” is going to be a while. Thankfully, with the New Year comes new opportunities for positive change. It’s time to take a look at every single category of your spending and saving — but in particular, experts say you should pay special attention to these five areas of your budget as we cruise on into 2021.
Like Shutman, many of us subscribed to more streaming services during lockdown in order to stay engaged and occupied. (I mean, Tiger King was a must-watch, right?) But why was our instinct to subscribe to everything? The thinking there is: “What are the things that are going to help me get through this?” says Kim Katz, Principal and financial advisor at Bernstein Private Wealth Management.
While some streaming services will hardly break the bank, others have subscription rates upwards of $60 a month. This makes it important to review and prioritize which services you want most, says Certified Public Accountant Michele Cagan. In order to put more of your hard-earned cash into our emergency savings and to tighten your budget, try to cut back on the number of services you have. You hardly have to go cold turkey — if you subscribe to six streaming services, go down to four, for example.
“It’s hard to tell people to cut back when there’s nothing else to do, Cagan says. “But that’s really an opportunity to increase your emergency savings.”
Restaurants and Groceries
While fewer people are eating out on a regular basis, many of us have invested more in groceries and takeout. Dalia Zada, a teacher and graduate student in San Diego, California, says she has spent more on groceries during the pandemic in order to sustain her vegetarian diet.
“So [my spending on] groceries has gone up, but I feel good about that because it’s healthier and not just eating a quick quesadilla at my university,” Zada says. When she does eat out or order take out, Zada makes a conscious effort to direct her money towards local businesses.
And with limited options for social gatherings, Shutman says her social life now depends on eating out with friends and family, which she says has made her more eager to spend money at restaurants. Both Zada and Shutman’s altered spending habits are in line with patterns that Cagan has observed among her clients. And while Cagan emphasizes the importance of supporting local businesses, she also recommends sticking to your budget (even where healthy food is concerned), and cautions against stockpiling groceries that can spoil quickly.
As people have transitioned to working and schooling from home and have spent less money on childcare, entertainment for young children (aka methods for keeping children occupied for 16 hours a day) has become priority #1 for many parents. According to Cagan, this has involved spending more on toys and other educational tools. Cagan acknowledges the importance of investing in entertainment for your children, but encourages spending within limits and tightening your budget, since it’s become clear we’re not leaving home anytime soon.
Perhaps one of the most surprising increases in spending during the pandemic has been an influx of charitable donations, Katz notes. “Usually when you have a recession or trauma in the economy or in the markets, those are not things that people are immediately proactively doing,” Katz says. “And this time it was dramatic and across the wealth spectrum.”
According to Katz, as people have witnessed the pandemic’s devastation, they’ve also been more proactive about making donations to causes they care most about.
Like many, Zada says she’s felt the need to donate money to organizations over the course of the pandemic.
“For the past few months I’ve set aside a budget just for mutual aids and GoFundMes just because I have seen so many people in my community and my global community really being impacted by COVID,” Zada says.
Tightening your budget for charitable donations is a smart and easy way to give back while being conscious about how much you are spending.
During the pandemic, millions of us reached for comfort. Fashion site Net-a-porter, for example, reported a 40% surge in sweatpant sales during lockdown, and this (possibly horrifying, possibly cute) sweatpant jumpsuit from Old Navy has been dubbed the “pandemic uniform.” In other words, we’ve been spending more on leisurewear, but less on formal attire and dry cleaning.
“If I am buying clothes, it’s comfortable clothes that I can work at home [in],” Zada says. “I’m definitely going to be a lot more conscious about clothes and shoes, because not using them made me realize just how much of it I don’t need.”
Katz urges people to “think more holistically” about how they spend their money and invest in the long-term and to tighten their budgets when it comes to sweatpants spending. In other words, be conscious about the money you are spending and whether or not you need that extra pair of heels.
Now that we’re (hopefully) remembering to write “2021” as the date on our papers, checks and other documents, keep in mind that budgets are meant to be flexible and adjust to our changing lives — so don’t feel bad when you need to make a tweak. The important thing is that you’re being thoughtful about your spending in the months to come.
MORE ON HERMONEY:
- Could 2021 Be The Year You Start — And Stick To — A Budget?
- HerMoney Podcast Episode 248: How To Budget (Even If You’ve Never Budgeted Before)
- How to Stick to a Budget When You Have SAD
- 5 Simple Tips to Help You Save for Retirement on Any Budget
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