Financial Tips

3 Steps To Set and Maintain a Post-Lockdown Budget That Works for You

Erica Sloan

Getty Images/lechatnoir
The COVID vaccine rollout is hitting its stride across the U.S. and many people are beginning to feel something they haven’t in over a year: hope. But even as we begin to make plans for the future, re-entering this new “normal” may feel uncomfortable—anxiety-provoking, even. With Summer Vaxacation, we’re here to help ease the transition out of our homes and into society.

For many, the pandemic has had devastating money-related consequences, whether in the form of layoffs, medical bills, costs associated with grieving, or otherwise, leading to an increase in the experience of financial stress. For others, spending may have decreased during this uncertain time, with costs spared on lifestyle habits like eating out and traveling. No matter where you fall on the continuum of expenditures and related stress during the pandemic, though, it's likely you've reevaluated how to manage spending and saving, both in terms of everyday living and planning for the future.

Essentially, for some of us, the lockdown lifestyle meant many of the pre-pandemic spending habits we were forced to abandon transformed directly into savings.  “We learned a lot about ourselves in the pandemic,” says personal-finance expert Farnoosh Torabi. “It was a time of great reflection, and in the past year, we may have realized how frivolous—or meaningful—some of our spending choices were.” So, for example, maybe you genuinely miss that $5 latte you bought daily on your way into the office, and you're excited to reintroduce the expense into your life post-lockdown. Or, maybe not.

And for those of us who didn't have the luxury of their previous spending budget getting funneled into a growing-by-the-day savings account during the pandemic, and instead experienced an uptick in financial stress, it likewise became important to check in with spending habits. That may have looked like breaking the mindless add-to-cart loop or cutting down daily expenses to the true essentials.

No matter your specific pandemic spending habits or current financial situation, though, Torabi suspects post-lockdown spending habits will have some commonalities for a great many folks. Namely, she predicts a widespread prioritization of connection over possession. That is, many will direct money, of any denomination, toward experiences they missed out on during the pandemic. “I would not be surprised to see more spending on trips and entertainment, as opposed to fashion and other material purchases,” she says. There's some data to back her up, too: Two-thirds of respondents from a recent survey of 450 people conducted by digital payment platform Zelle said that they were planning to travel this year, and half of them reported that they would likely attend a large social gathering.

“Post-quarantine life isn’t about going back in time and repeating everything. It’s about refinement and spending with more clarity and consciousness.” —Farnoosh Torabi

Even so, it’s important to remember that how you choose to allocate your money should be a personal decision. “Take inventory of what you missed and didn’t miss during the pandemic, and apply it to a ‘new normal’ budget,” says Torabi. “Post-quarantine life isn’t about going back in time and repeating everything. It’s about refinement and spending with more clarity and consciousness.”

But just as is the case with other components of your post-lockdown re-entry into life as you used to know it—like with socializing, travel, and work—setting financial boundaries is important. Below, Torabi shares her three best practices for managing a budget while maintaining perspective in our “new normal.”

3 tips for how to manage spending post-lockdown, according to a financial expert

1. Pace yourself.

It may be tempting to try to experience everything right now with lightened restrictions and rising vaccination rates, but spacing out trips and excursions is critical, says Torabi. “This way, you have time in between to rebuild or replenish savings,” she says.

Being intentional with your spending to avoid impulse-driven choices and remaining realistic about what you can afford are, of course, not new best practices. But in the context of this specific post-vax summer, if there’s a particular experience you really want to have, it isn’t too late to start saving. Reverse-engineer the experience in question, Torabi says, so you’re working backward from the total amount to figure out how much you need to allocate to savings each week to hit your goal.

2. Remember the budgeting basics.

A personal-finances refresher is always helpful when it comes to money management, no matter the circumstances. According to Torabi, paying your bills, maintaining a rainy-day savings account, and contributing to retirement should come before discretionary spending. This helps ensure your bases are covered before you move forward, and it serves as a mental checklist for reducing any unnecessary spending-related stress.

And if you're not able to contribute to savings right now? Not to worry—experts have tips to help you create a savings budget, even while living paycheck-to-paycheck.

3. Remove shame from the money equation.

There is no guilt in passing on an invitation to an activity that doesn't fit into your budget or simply doesn't feel financially worth it. There is also no shame in spending money on those things that do feel valuable. Ultimately, the only person you have to answer to regarding how you spend your money is yourself.

As Torabi points out, experiences—like going to a baseball game or the beach, for two examples—hold the power to increase our happiness, and happiness is at once valuable and unquantifiable. With that in mind, consider spending a little extra on yourself, if you can, after a really hard year and a half. (If you’re in a position of surplus, you might also extend generosity to others in the form of donations or just by treating a friend.)

And if you're not in a position to spend any extra dollars on yourself, there are plenty of ways to practice self-love—like meditating, getting outside, or even taking a nap—that carry a price tag of $0.

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