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Back to Work Budget Tips

Heading back to work soon? As the country has become more vaccinated, many employers are planning or have already implemented reentry policies to transition back to normalcy.

Part of our normal working routine was hampered by COVID restrictions but saved many folks a lot of money. Many enjoyed working from home and the perk of saving on commuting, business clothing, dining out for lunch and morning coffees every day. Going back to work will take some transitioning, but also require some keen attention to budgeting and spending. According to Smallbiztrends.com, Americans will spend $747 on average to return to work, citing the Pandemic Spending Survey of over 2,000 Americans, by the Seattle-based experience management company Qualtrics.

So, before you retire your work from home yoga sweatpants, remember that your budget may be taking a hit in the next few weeks or months.

Here are a few areas to be mindful of:

  • The Price of Gas. One big benefit of working from home is not having to commute 50-100 miles a day (or more). And with gas prices on the rise, this has been a big help to the budget. In the meantime, shop around for better gas prices—use Gasbuddy.com or similar apps for the best prices in your area and on your route to work. Get a credit card with cash back and rewards so you can earn points each time you fill up your tank.
  • Parking. Parking at home is cheap; at work, especially if you work in the city, not so much. Be sure to include parking costs in your new budget.
  • Commuting Costs. Uber, Train, Metro, Bus, Toll Booth—Oh my! If you’re not driving, then you might be Ubering, taking the train, bus or paying tolls.
  • Lunch Costs. During the pandemic lockdown, many of us got used to preparing meals for ourselves at home on the fly—thanks to not having to rush around in the AM to get out the door. It’s easy to walk 20 steps down the hallway and make a sandwich. Plus, we probably ate healthier. Why not bring some of those good habits back to work with you? Statistically, it’s five times more expensive to dine out than to prepare your own meals. Make the time and save money by preparing lunches ahead of time or taking leftovers to work. You may save $50 or more per week.

To go or not to go? That is the question. There’s something to be said for the benefits of meeting up with coworkers for an hour to socialize, something we haven’t done in excess or at all for months and months. And some are not keen on eating at their desks because, let’s face it, we’ve been doing that for months alone and it makes us feel more normal again. Don’t pass up that weekly invite to lunch, just be aware that you need to include this in your budget.

  • Coffee Expense. The average cup of coffee costs about $2.99 —more if you go fancy. Multiply that times five days a week for 52 weeks, and you can see how much money can be saved by brewing your own coffee at home and skipping the expensive java. Don’t cheat yourself though; treat yourself occasionally and save money overall. That’s a plus in the credit column of your budget.
  • Clothes. Goodbye sweatpants, hello work wear. Some of us may miss the dressing up part of going to work at the office, and others may not. Either way, it’s a big change and one that might cost you some money for either purchasing new items or your revived dry cleaning expense. (Or buying new clothes because you put on a few pounds during the pandemic. (You’re not alone.)
  • Daycare Costs. After a year or more of homeschooling for many families, they may be returning to the added expense of childcare, which can amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars each month. Some parents have become more inventive as they balanced working with homeschooling for the last year or more. Some have formed childcare “co-ops” for at-home learning during the pandemic, which was a welcome break for those who still had job responsibilities in addition to being part-time schoolteachers for their kids. Consider sharing childcare duties with your friends and neighbors even as you transition back to normalcy. It may be very worthwhile and save you money.

Plan your budget
The hallmark of a sound financial plan is a good and workable budget as a guideline. Sometimes we don’t really know what we’re spending until we put it on paper or into a spreadsheet. Doing so usually generates a big “WOW” for many people. And that’s OK because you have to start somewhere. Tackling a budget doesn’t have to be in January every year. It can start whenever you want, especially if things change, such as a job loss or medical expenses.

Whatever you were spending going to work pre-pandemic, it was probably more than you realized or wanted. So it might not be a bad idea to do an overhaul of your yearly or monthly budget. For some, COVID-19 busted their budget.

Are you putting enough away for your retirement and in your emergency fund? If your health care costs have increased, you’ll want to factor that in. Maybe things will balance out a little, with you using less on electricity at home, spending less on printer ink and paper and maybe buying fewer groceries.

Still, it is definitely expensive doing your job from an office, cubicle or workspace, so plan now for ways you can save. For more tips on saving and budgeting, see our Financial Know How page.

Resources: Credit.org, Forbes, Smallbiztrends.com, US News and World Report