I need to start by saying that there are an unprecedented amount of financial hardships brought on by COVID. I do not want to downplay that or draw attention away from it. Everyone is struggling and some a lot more than others. This post will not be for everyone, I recognize that. But even in the toughest of times, my mom instilled in me the value of always trying to find a silver lining from a very young age.
That is not to say that I didn’t spend much of March and a good portion of April being stressed and angry. I did. Grieving and coping is part of the process, but eventually I have a learned reflex to find the good in the situation. Full disclosure, I’m on 20 hours of pay currently (I know a lot better than many), but nonetheless half of what I normally make. I’m not looking for sympathy, in fact I don’t want it. Because I did find the silver lining that is going to benefit me financially in the months and maybe even years to come.
I remember reading The Millionaire Mindset a few years ago and in it the author discusses the fact that many people aren’t wealthy because as their earnings increase, so do their expenses. As we make more money, we are more tempted to spend and a lot of times these two things increase at a similar rate. I remember when I went from a residency salary to a full salary, the first month I saved a ton and each month after it seemed like that amount became less and less. Each month, my expenses seemed to grow slowly into my new income. Until a few weeks ago, if I tried to live on my residency salary, the lower salary would have felt incredibly restrictive and yet I lived rather easily on it when I needed to.
And that’s where the silver lining comes in. For the last month and a half, it is almost as if a reset button has been pressed on my spending habits. I didn’t have to withhold buying most things, it was done for me. I couldn’t go out for drinks, I couldn’t wander around stores, I couldn’t travel anywhere, and for the most part I was home or at work.
After reviewing my finances for April, it is obvious that a lot of what I typically spend on are not essential. So, here is how I’m going to use the spending reset that COVID created:
1. Compare my spending
There are 4 major categories that show quite a difference pre-shutdown vs during shutdown. The areas of spending with the sharpest decrease during this time are travel, restaurants/bars, entertainment, and retail. Seeing the fluctuation in my spending gives me a good idea of what essential looks like. Before all of this, I would have told you that I’m careful and that I don’t spend much. But, seeing a month of finances like this has changed my perspective some.
Now, I don’t plan on staying at the essential spending level once I don’t have to and normalcy returns, but at the same time I can get closer to spending in moderation rather than somewhat impractically.
2. Identify the easiest areas to change
There are certain things I miss spending money on. I’m looking forward to traveling and spending money on entertainment like golf, bowling, festivals, and wineries. But, I’ve also noticed that the restaurants and the retail categories I haven’t missed near as much.
I’d love to be in a coffee shop right now writing this, but I realize I don’t mind making my coffee every morning at home. I also realize that even the most extravagant meal I try to make that requires random expensive ingredients still doesn’t compare to the cost of eating out. And I haven’t missed the impulse retail buys of clothes, kitchen gadgets, or books that I “have to have” but then never read. While I want to go to the occasional dinner out as a social activity, I won’t mind decreasing the spending for the convenience factor. I’ll go to restaurants with friends and family, but I want to continue to bring lunch and cook even on days that I’m lazy.
3. Decrease the easiest areas
Decreasing my travel category is not something I want to do. I value traveling to new places and getting to see my family above all else. Trying to save in this category would make me frustrated and feel like I’m sacrificing. However, the thought of spending less at restaurants and spending less at retailers doesn’t feel like such an obstacle.
The best part of this change is that any spending in those easy areas will feel significant since I haven’t in so long. The first dinner out with friends will feel like a special occasion and the next time I get to wander around the bookstore will be exciting, even if I don’t buy a book. My plan is to try and keep this new norm for as long as possible so that I can save more and find meaning in the last few months.