Now that the pandemic is (almost) over, the days of working from home should be coming to a close. Offices are open again, and people are getting called to return to work in greater numbers. While the amount of people working in their offices is still about 50% of what it was pre-pandemic, those numbers are slowly climbing.
So, what does this mean for your budget?
Workers that managed to maintain their employment last year while working remotely have benefited from earning the same salary but with lower expenses. If you are among them, hopefully, you put at least some of that money into paying off debt or building savings. However, as you transition back to working in an office, expenses will almost certainly increase. But this doesn’t mean you have to bust your budget. You can easily keep a budget and continue to save and pay down debt as you return to work.
First, you need to have a budget
If you don’t have a budget already, now is the time to start one. Budgeting makes it easy to track your expenses and ensures you don’t spend more than you earn. Without a budget, you will be more likely to use credit cards to cover shortfalls. You’ll also have a hard time saving consistently to achieve financial goals.
What expenses will go up as you return to work?
There are a few definite categories of expenses that can or will go up as you return to the office:
Going back to work will inevitably increase your monthly transportation costs. You’ll need to pay for gas again, and the cost of gas is much higher. At the height of the pandemic, gas prices reached a low of $1.95, but now you’ll be lucky to find gas below $3 per gallon.
TIP: Keep up with maintenance and don’t forget that driving slower means using less gas.
If you need a new car then you may have even more issues. Due to interrupted supply chains and consumer demand, good deals are getting harder to find. Also, most of the 0% financing deals we saw last year are gone. The good news is that interest rates are low—for now. So, if you must buy, you may be able to get a good loan if you aren’t buying with cash. Your best bet is to look for less popular cars like sedans instead of SUVs. You also might consider a lower-cost hybrid to reduce your fuel costs.
TIP: Unless you really need a new (or used) car now is probably not the time. Wait for the supply chain to return to normal.
If you live in a place where public transportation is a workable option, you will probably get the best deals here. With ridership down after COVID-19, mass transit systems are becoming much more flexible with schedules. Additionally, an infrastructure deal has been approved in the senate which means more money for public transportation as well as roadways. As more people return to work, we may also see more interest in public transportation systems. If you can use public transportation you could save over $10,000 per year, according to a report by the American Public Transportation Association.
Whether you’re buying new, buying used, or leasing, the cost of owning a car can be a serious budget drain. The average family spends over $10,000 per year on transportation costs. That’s 17 percent of the household budget. This guide helps you learn practical ways to cut car costs, so you can save money.
Now that people are back to work in person, that means we actually need to dress for work. But dry cleaning can be expensive and altering clothing to fit properly can sometimes cost more than the garment itself. Fortunately, you don’t always need to dry clean. In some cases, you may be able to hand-wash or use a gentle cycle for some dry clean clothing.
While some offices have relaxed their dress codes following the pandemic, even ‘dress down’ or casual clothing can still be expensive. To save money, skip the brand names and go generic or items with store names. In addition, remember to look for sales and discounts before buying clothing. If you shop online, you can even use browser extensions like Honey, Rakuten, and iBotta that help you find coupon codes and cash-back rebates.
One of the biggest expenses at work is eating out. In fact, the cost of eating out is close to $3,600 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can save big by bringing in your food. You can take leftovers from the night before or spend an hour or two on the weekend prepping lunches for the next week. Not only will you save money, but home-cooked food is typically much healthier. You can still go out for office meetings or other social events, but try when you can to eat in.
TIP: Save money at work by purchasing your snacks and drinks in the supermarket and bringing them in instead of hitting vending machines
Many parents didn’t need childcare when they worked at home, and many care facilities were closed anyway. However, now that we are going back to work, this huge expense can hurt your budget. Currently, the average cost of childcare is roughly $750 per month. Some people are even getting into debt over childcare, which is not a sustainable long-term proposition. Others, mostly women, are cutting back on their jobs or leaving the workforce altogether.
TIP: If you haven’t already, make sure to check if you are eligible and sign up for Advance Child Tax Credit payments.
Some companies have also begun to offer childcare subsidies or even provide services on-campus. Apple, for example, offers a set-aside for up to $5,000 (pre-tax) dollars to help cover child-care, and other tech companies have similar benefits.
Flextime can help as well. If your company doesn’t offer remote work hours or flexible scheduling upfront, ask. It may be something you can work out individually based on your needs.
Kids returning to school
Even if your children go to public school, there are still plenty of expenses. Costs for school supplies, uniforms, lunches, and extra-curricular activities can add up quickly. For example, school supplies for elementary students can cost close to $600 per child and high school students can be double that.
TIP: You can pack lunches for your children too, to keep your food costs low.
Maintaining your budget as you return to work
Even though expenses are going to go up in certain parts of our lives as we go back to work and school, don’t give up on your budget. With discipline and cost-cutting, you can maintain your budget and avoid credit card debt. Remember to review your budget on a weekly or monthly basis. If you see you are overspending because of back-to-work costs, make sure to look for other expenses you can cut or cut back to stay on track. Paying off credit cards can also help by eliminating bills that drain your income.