Just about a year ago, scientists and money nerds alike started talking a lot about exponential growth a whole lot. Around that same time, I noticed a really unusual run on frozen pizza that had nothing to do with sporting events.
Of course, as we know now, we were headed full throttle into a pandemic and series of subsequent lock downs. Now that we are coming up on almost a year, I’ve started to also discover some of the notes that I made to myself about money: increases I was anticipating and other areas where I intended to save more.
Those scribbles in notebooks and comments in Google Sheets inspired me to sit down and think about all the various ways we’ve shifted our spending and saving over the past year. While we remain incredibly fortunate to have kept both our jobs, not much about our finances stayed the same.
We’ve permanently busted our grocery budget.
A year ago, I started to buy just a little bit more. While no one could have fully anticipated the toilet paper pandemonium that ensued, I did find a note in my budget from February 2020 that we decided to increase our grocery spending by $75.
That $75 increase is still in our budget. Thankfully, grocery shopping is much more predictable again. But some items have gone up in price–permanently, it seems. We’ve also gotten a little sloppy with our food waste. So it looks like what once felt like a temporary increase to our grocery budget might be more or less here to stay.
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Clothes shopping isn’t a priority.
Retail therapy was kind of my thing. If I’m being truthful, it’s probably still my thing–it just looks more responsible now.
If this was any other unending stressful situation, I’d probably have a new wardrobe or at least a new handbag to show for it. Even with the excuse of dressing this baby bump, I haven’t been buying much clothing lately. We are participating in a Buy Nothing group that has HP pretty well covered, and I’m trying to stretch–quite literally–what I already own rather than buying a full maternity wardrobe.
Shopping locally is.
With so much of the normal fun money spending items off our wish lists, you think we’d be spending less month each month. You would be wrong.
One thing that we committed to during this pandemic was to vote with our dollars as long as we had dollars to use. So we’ve been consistently ordering takeout from our favorite local restaurants. I’ve also been paying a bit more to shop locally when stocking up on puzzles for my parents and for HP.
So is giving!
This is another line that would have been easy to swipe from our budget. However, since we are both still teaching–for better or for worse–we are committed to sticking with this.
In addition to continuing to make monetary donations each month, we’ve also made it a real priority to visit our micropantry with items several times a month. I’ve also noticed that we are starting to branch out more from giving to charities (thanks, Charity Navigator, for making it so easy!) to also giving directly to people in need.
Our utilities are higher.
Few things thrill me quite as much as when the electric company sends out its quarterly notifications that our home is more efficient than even our energy efficient neighbors. So I was a little taken aback when our last snapshot said we’ve used 5% more electricity than last year.
Then, I remembered that we are home whenever we aren’t at work. And we still occasionally work from home. So yes, it makes sense that our utilities are higher!
My classroom expenses are…different.
Normally, I spend about $50 a month on building out my classroom library. For the last two years, I also bought a breakfast bar for one of my students. This year, though, everything is different.
While I’ve had students in and out of my classroom since October, I cannot circulate my classroom library. So the money that I save on those books goes toward buying masks and earbuds for students who need them. I also do monthly raffles to boost participation in different class activities as well as optional enrichment opportunities, so I’ve been setting money aside for that, too.
Savings goals feel more fluid.
The only concrete savings goal we have set up right now is our Christmas 2021 sinking fund. Other than that, we move money into two buckets: short-term savings and our Roth IRAs. Once the Roths fill up (if they fill up?), we will then push extra toward our mortgage.
In normal times, these goals would be a bit more defined, likely with quite a few more specific sinking funds. But right now, we are just continuing to squirrel away whatever we can.
The same is true with travel.
We really miss traveling, but we also realistically know that it isn’t in the cards anytime soon. Not only is it something that we aren’t comfortable with due to COVID. I am also feeling incredibly unmotivated to plan a vacation either as A Very Pregnant Person or later with a newborn in tow. Rather than a specific travel sinking fund, we are just sliding some extra money into short-term savings whenever possible.
We’re still making progress…
Currently, we aren’t paying anything else toward our mortgage. We also aren’t moving mountains when it comes to our Roth IRAs or HP’s 529. We finished the year as a single paycheck household (more or less), and I know that’s how we will spend the spring and fall with my upcoming maternity leave.
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Even though we aren’t smashing any huge goals right now, the needle is still moving on our mortgage. Plus, the investments we’ve already made are doing well. (No Dogecoin for us!). Not every part of a financial journey needs to be leaps and bounds of progress, so I’m OK with this.
…And trying to be more grateful.
When we realized that my husband was going to have to take a leave of absence in the fall, we weren’t sure what it would do to our finances. Thankfully, he still got a bit of compensation under the Families First Act. But, yeah, money was definitely tight. Like skinny jeans 11 months into a pandemic tight.
Still, we know that we’ve weathered this storm a lot better than many. As a result, we’re trying to roll with the different changes to our finances and appreciate what we do have. That’s definitely something that I’ve struggled with on our financial journey. I find it easier to compare myself to others and identify what I don’t have rather than appreciate our accomplishments and celebrate what I do have. Perhaps there’s a small silver lining to **all this** after all.
So Tell Me…How has the pandemic shifted your spending or saving?