Money at 30: How Quarantine Ended Up Impacting Our Spending (in Hindsight)
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m really starting to think we could be turning a corner on this whole pandemic thing. Personally, I’ve been fully vaccinated for a few weeks now while my wife has had her shots since January. Because of this, while life isn’t “back to normal” by any means, it’s definitely making progress. In turn, our COVID-era spending habits have also been evolving.
Around this time last year, I shared a post looking at some of the ways our spending had changed during quarantine. With that in mind, I thought now was a good time to look back at the spending categories I highlighted then and see where things stand now. Plus, I’ve come across a couple of other spending changes that have popped in the past year I feel deserve mention as well.
Updates on My Original COVID Spending Changes
Travel and entertainment
Topping the list in terms of spending categories that plummeted in 2020 were travel and entertainment. I know this isn’t shocking information but it was a pretty big shift in terms of our budget. It’s hard to say just how much we ended up saving last year due to being mostly grounded, but I’d have to think it was thousands once flights, hotels, food, and transit are considered. In fact, based on another experience we’ll discuss a bit later, I can say with some confidence that the lack of travel did amount to thousands of dollars in savings — or at least reappropriated funds.
With that said, after I wrote that initial post in May 2020, we did end up taking a couple of domestic business trips later in the year. This included a road trip to a mostly empty Vegas to see what that experience was like as well as taking the car to Dallas to cover the reopening of Disney on Ice. Plus, just a few weeks ago, we finally made use of the Allegiant credit we banked after canceling our May 2020 Vegas trip by heading to Sin City once again. Still, all things considered, 2020 was easily our lightest travel year (and for good reason, obviously) and traditional entertainment spending was pretty much non-existent.
Early in the pandemic, we barely left our apartment. Just as things were shutting down, I remember going to Sam’s Club and thinking “we won’t be here for a long while.” Of course, we did eventually need food so we discovered Instacart. Then, even as things eased a bit, we still found ourselves ordering grocery delivery because dammit why not?
Eventually, we did shrug off that delivery habit and I honestly don’t even remember the last time we used it. On the other hand, more often than not, we do still use Instacart to order Aldi pickup — although this is much cheaper than delivery, with only a few item markups and a $2 fee. But the biggest change during the pandemic has been our reliance on Sam’s Club. We actually got our membership in late 2019 and weren’t sure how much we’d use it, but wow were we wrong. Once we settled into some staples we liked, we made restocking those items a weekly or every-other-week trip. Plus, with their Scan and Go feature, we found that visiting late on a school night meant very little human interaction (which was an especially big plus during the pandemic).
Cut to today, I’d have to say that our grocery spending is definitely down from this time last year but is probably on par — if not a bit lower — than the before times. While I’ve seen reports that food prices are inflating, I can’t speak to any specific examples of this with us (not that I honestly pay all that much attention aside from the bottom line). Of course, if anything threatens to raise our grocery spending, it’s the fact that we have a farmer’s market at our apartment each week. So, if my newfound kombucha habit gets much worse, then we might see a small spike ;).
Speaking of delivery, man did we go hard on Uber Eats and the like during those early pandemic days. In my defense, 1) I did have Uber Eats credits thanks to my American Express Platinum card and 2) pandemic! However, just as we weened ourselves from Instacart, we’ve also cut way way back on food delivery.
But what about those Uber credits, you ask? Well, I do still have those along with additional Uber credits and Grubhub credits from the Amex Gold card I picked up during quarantine. The difference is that we now utilize the pick-up options on these apps much more frequently. As a result, between the lower costs associated with not eating out so much and utilizing my various credits, our dining spending also continues to come in below our 2019 levels. That said, I don’t see this lasting forever as I do hope to return to regular inside dining eventually.
Finally, as for updates to my previous post, we come to utilities. As I noted last year, while the pandemic likely led to higher utility bills for many, we’ve always worked at home, so I didn’t expect a big change. Then again, since we had fewer trips, it is possible that we paid a bit more overall. Honestly, though, I really don’t think our utility spending changed enough in either direction during quarantine. Moreover, this is a bit moot now as our new apartment bases our share on square footage and not actual usage.
Other Pandemic-Era Budget Changes
As I alluded to, one of the big benefits of my job is that I often get to travel for work. On top of that, when I do go on these business trips, I’m often able to deduct my expenses — and, in turn, reduce my taxable income. Well, as I was reminded a few weeks ago as I filed my return, a significant decrease in write-offs meant maybe much more in taxes than I was anticipating.
Thankfully, we did have the cash on hand to cover those costs. Furthermore, it was mostly my fault to begin with since I haven’t been doing a good job at keeping up with my quarterly payments. Lessons learned all around and I’ll be paying (no pun intended) much more attention to my QuickBooks from here on out.
Okay, maybe this is a bit of a stretch but I’m going to include it anyway. After spending pretty much an entire year inside our former apartment during quarantine times, we decided it was time for a change. So, in March, we made the move to a new and much nicer apartment… that happens to cost an extra $400 a month. Obviously this isn’t entirely the pandemic’s fault but it is a big change to our budget (or non-budget, as it were) nonetheless.
As things slowly get back to near-normal, I’m finding that some of our spending has as well. At the same time, I do foresee some longer-term changes for us. These include potentially saving money on groceries by relying more on warehouse clubs as well as settling for takeout more and doing table service less. Of course, these savings are more than offset by our higher rent but c’est la vie. Regardless, I’m just glad (and extremely thankful) that we’ve managed to make it this far and stay in relatively strong financial shape throughout this global ordeal.