Many of our lives changed dramatically a little over a year ago, and as a result, our spending changed too. Now, all over the world, things are beginning to reopen, and it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel is shining a little bit brighter. The idea that we’ll be able to go back to “normal” seems more and more likely each day.
While we’re not totally out of the woods yet, we can start preparing our budgets for what’s ahead. Because as things reopen, how and where we spend will change again.
In this article, you’ll learn how you can transition your budget intentionally. You’ll start by thinking about the changes you’ve made because of the pandemic. Next, you’ll spend some time reflecting how those changes have impacted you. Finally, you’ll end by considering how you might structure your post-pandemic budget so that you can keep the changes that are important and joyful.
1. What kind of changes have you made because of the pandemic?
When the pandemic struck over a year ago, it changed a lot and it changed it pretty quickly. Businesses suddenly shuttered. Many of us were mandated to stay home. Some of us experienced a total or partial loss of income. But no matter what situation we found ourselves in, all of us changed our spending habits dramatically.
Take a step back and think about how your budget and spending have changed over this past year. Have you been spending more on groceries rather than eating out? Did you stop paying for childcare? Has the way you commuted to work changed? Take some time to also think about any goals you might have put on hold. Write it all down.
For me, instead of spending money on gas and bridge tolls to get to work, I was spending more on large grocery hauls that would get us through at least two weeks. Next, as the pandemic wore on, my husband and I decided that we wanted to invest more in streaming services since we couldn’t go out to the movies for entertainment. We also put some things on hold completely. For example, we stopped saving for vacations because we weren’t sure when we’d realistically be able to travel again.
2. What kind of impact have those changes had on you? Positive or negative.
Many of us weren’t able to pick and choose the changes we had to make when the pandemic first hit. But that doesn’t mean they’ve all been bad or detrimental and it also doesn’t mean they’ve all been good. If we reflect on how those changes have impacted us, then we can decide whether or not we should keep them around as permanent parts of our budgets and lives once the world has fully opened up again.
So think about the list you made in the first step. Consider the impact those changes have had on you and your family. Has a change you’ve made had a positive impact on you? Has it felt negative?
I mentioned bridge tolls earlier. I’ve been working from home since March 2020, which means my transportation spending has nearly vanished. That was really helpful in the early going when we were using extra money to stock up the pantry.
3. Which positive changes can you practically keep?
Now that you know which changes have had a positive impact on your life (and which ones felt more negative), now’s the time to think about whether you can practically keep the positive ones moving forward.
Some changes might not stick for reasons out of your control. You might have been spending less on gas while you’ve been working from home, but it’s possible you’ll have to start driving back to work in the near future. But you may have control over others. Maybe you’ve enjoyed eating at home more often and so you’d like to continue cooking at a similar rate. If that commitment seems doable, then it’s worth making space for it in your budget.
In my house, we’ve grown accustomed to our new streaming service platforms, and since it might be a while before we feel comfortable going to theaters again, we’ll likely keep them. And we’ll make sure that we’re not skimping on saving or planning for other essentials for the sake of a good Friday night movie.
4. What changes do you want to drop?
On the other hand, it’s quite possible that there are changes you’ve had to make over the last year that you want to drop ASAP. So consider which ones those might be; a good place to start is by thinking about which changes have had a negative impact on your life.
For example, cooking meals at home can take a lot of time. If you include clean up as part of the meal process, it’s not hard to see how a few hours can go by without anyone noticing. Maybe that’s made for more stressful and busy evenings? If so, then maybe it’s time to reduce that grocery budget and bump up eating out so some evenings can be a little more relaxing.
Since the start of the pandemic, my husband and I haven’t really been going on dates (because where would we go?), and our Date Night Envelope is overflowing. We’d like to make regular date nights a thing again, and plan to drop these date-less months as soon as we can.
5. Once things reopen, what do you want to add into your life and budget?
Many of us have had to cut a lot out of our lives and our budgets as a result of the pandemic. Many of those things we cut were things that brought us deep joy. We were no longer hosting dinners, going to the movies, eating out at restaurants, traveling, spending time with friends, and so much more. But now we’re getting closer to the possibility of being able to do those things again, and our feelings about their return may be complicated. While some of us may feel a lot of excitement, others of us may feel a bit of anxiety, and it’s entirely possible we may feel a mix of both!
So think about what you’d like to add back into your budget. Maybe you’ve picked up a new hobby during the pandemic, which means you’ll need space for that in your budget once life gets back to normal. Or maybe your kids are excited about picking up a sport at school, and that will add additional costs to your budget. If it’s important to you and your family, and you can practically make space for it, then it’s worth adding.
As you consider what you’d like to add, take a look at how your money decisions might be affected by your feelings about reopening.
If you’re excited right now, great! Things are looking much better than they have been. Will you feel the urge to reward yourself for getting through a hard year? Find a way to do that within your budget instead of going crazy and paying for it later.
But maybe you’re feeling apprehensive, and so you feel the urge to save, save, save. It makes sense to be cautious after a year of uncertainty. While it’s always good to save to give yourself a cushion against future emergencies, remember to also make space in your budget for things that bring you joy.
Keeping an eye on how you’re feeling can help you make informed decisions when it comes to knowing what you want to add back into your budget.
Finally, it’s also important to think about your comfort level. Perhaps you do want to start traveling again, but if you’re not totally comfortable yet, then it’s a good idea to wait a bit longer. And while you wait, you can start saving for whatever plans you think you’ll have in the future — it never hurts to be prepared!
My husband and I are still cautious about traveling, but that also could change over the course of the next few months. And so, with reopenings on the horizon and with the possibility of us having two incomes again, we plan to start saving for a vacation as soon as we can.
6. Think about your current budget, and how you can make changes so that it can all fit together.
Now that you know where each change stands in terms of whether or not you’d like to keep it, you can start considering how you’ll change your budget to reflect these things.
With your list of items that you’d like to add, edit, or drop, note how much each thing will increase or reduce your budget. There might be some guesstimation needed, but that’s okay! A ballpark figure is enough to help you know what kind of edits you’ll need to make to your budget in order to fit everything in. When it comes time to make those changes, you can update your envelopes in Goodbudget.
With these things in mind, you’ll be able to transition intentionally into your new, post-pandemic budget.