The past few months have been eye-opening from a spending perspective for a lot of people. Here's what one writer has learned.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way a lot of people manage their money, and it's definitely pushed me to make some changes to my budget. There are some areas where I'm spending more money. For example, right now, hand sanitizer comes at a premium, and so I recently paid a small fortune for a teeny, tiny bottle that's not even set to ship for another two weeks.
In other areas, I'm saving money. Since everyone's stuck at home, I haven't filled my car with gasoline in over a month, whereas I normally do so at least once a week. And while I normally take my kids for haircuts every so often or indulge in salon-style grooming myself, we haven't done any of that since early March.
Of course, I don't expect this to be the situation forever. I'm hoping that at some point, I won't be overcharged for soap and toilet paper, and that I'll need to refill my gas tank more often. But some of the spending changes I've made actually make sense for my family on a long-term basis, and so I'm aiming to keep them up.
1. Paying more to have groceries delivered
I live in New Jersey which, second to New York, has the most COVID-19 cases in the nation. As a precaution, I've been staying away from packed supermarkets and have instead been getting most of what I need delivered. And that's proving quite expensive. Between tacked-on fees, higher prices, and tips, I can easily say that I'm spending 25% more on groceries than I normally do.
At the same time, I'm saving something else -- time. And since I'm self-employed, for me, time is money. In fact, I've done the math, and despite the fact that ordering groceries online is more expensive than shopping in stores, the amount of work I can do with that saved time makes up for it and then some. As such, I think I'll continue having groceries delivered even when it's safer to venture out.
2. Ordering less takeout and delivery
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, I ordered takeout quite frequently. Not only do I enjoy getting to mix things up on the meal front, but since I'm self-employed, I was able to justify the expense by saving time on cooking and using those freed-up hours to work.
Because my grocery bills have been more substantial these past few weeks, I've scaled back on takeout and instead have focused on cooking more efficiently -- making large batches of food I can freeze for future use, and being more creative with my pantry. I've realized that cutting back on takeout makes those meals more of a treat. And since restaurants charge such a substantial markup, I think I'll try limiting myself once the crisis is over.
3. Avoiding non-essential purchases
Normally, I'm not the type to feel guilty about buying treats for myself or my kids. But over the past seven weeks, I really haven't purchased much of anything other than food. Part of that is because I think it's wise for anyone who can to pad his or her savings account since the economy is so shaky. But I also don't want the people who work in warehouses and do deliveries to put themselves at risk just so I can have a new pair of sweatpants or board game I can easily do without.
Cutting back on these needless purchases has helped me realize how much they can add up, and so I think going forward, I'll be more judicious. If anything, I may start by limiting myself to one treat item a month, keeping in mind that essentials don't count in this category. In other words, I won't deprive myself of new socks if some of mine rip and need to be replaced, but I will hold off on buying books I'm itching to read if I can wait a few weeks to get them from the library.
Though a lot of people are, unfortunately, struggling financially because of COVID-19, a lot of households may be able to use the opportunity to alter their spending for the better. It's certainly something I hope to do myself.