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ADMIN 2022. 01. 29.  
   제목: Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

Lost jobs and lockdowns forced almost everyone to change their spending habits. How many of those changes will stick? We talked to five households about their pandemic budgeting.

By Tara Siegel Bernard
March 7, 2021

Pandemic living has probably reshaped your relationship with money.

Maybe you took a hit when you lost your job, or perhaps unemployment paid more than the position you lost. Or you may have continued receiving your usual paycheck, living a more sheltered version of your pre-pandemic life. Or if your situation was dire, you could have been among the people who sold plasma just to get by.

No matter how your financial life has shifted, the pandemic has served as a reminder: So much of your livelihood is delicately hinged on things going well.

With the number of vaccinated people growing every day, there is a sense of hope that our lives will soon return to normal. Many people look forward to the day they can earn and spend just as they did before the pandemic arrived. Others may be more like older generations who smoothed and reused tin foil in the decades after the Great Depression their habits will be forever altered.

These five households provide a snapshot of just a few of the ways the pandemic has changed budgets across the country, and what will or won뭪 stay the same after the crisis has passed.

Robbie Bourne considers his family fortunate. His job as a digital media manager has continued uninterrupted because he can work from the bungalow they bought in 2018. And while his wife, Kate, had her earnings as a hairstylist completely dry up in March, she received unemployment benefits relatively quickly.

But for a couple who used to spend about $300 per month on discretionary purchases while making payments on a mortgage, student loans and credit card debt, the pandemic has been a reminder of just how easy it can be to lose your financial bearings.

The Bournes, who have a 4-year-old daughter and a baby due in April, are now thinking about money in a way they hadn뭪 before.

밇very single dollar gets counted, said Mr. Bourne, 35. 밨ather than thinking of month-to-month and how much is left after the bills are done, we are really trying to solidify our one-, three- and five-year plan, he added. 밡ot that we haven뭪 had those things in the past; it feels like there is more rigidity to it.

Government relief efforts have even offered ways to improve their financial footing. The couple is taking advantage of the federal government뭩 suspension of student loan payments by making them anyway even rounding them up by $40 a month. Everything they pay now goes directly toward the roughly $20,000 they owe.

And any additional stimulus payments will be earmarked for their credit cards. By committing $1,200 per month to those debts, the couple expects they뭠l be eliminated within three years.

The Bournes have also embraced the side hustle. Mr. Bourne has done marketing work for friends, stashing away those earnings should they need them, or putting them toward an eventual family vacation if they don뭪. Ms. Bourne, 35, tried to get her nascent graphic design business off the ground, but that took a back seat to caring for their daughter when her preschool went virtual. Instead of paying $250 a month for online learning, they pulled her out and saved the money instead.

Food costs have stayed roughly the same: They no longer dine out, but their grocery budget has increased. Now they spend roughly $700 to $800 monthly when food shopping, instead of $500 to $600. 밯hat is there to do other than eat decadently? Mr. Bourne said. 밫hat is how we end up spending a lot of our time.

Their utility costs have risen slightly as a result of staying home more, but the effect on their discretionary spending has been more pronounced. Despite the occasional minor splurge a used Nintendo Switch and a new armchair their retail therapy has been limited to a few items purchased out of boredom, like a new sunlamp and some sweaters. Much of the $300 they usually spent each month has been redirected into refinishing their deck.

Mr. Bourne says he wonders what it will feel like to spend $12 on a cocktail again. 밒t is not hard to part with the money when you are out living your life and going to fun places, he said. 밄ut it will also be a shock to the system.

Lawrence Bentley has spent the entire pandemic hunting for a job.

He was laid off just a few months before the coronavirus reached pandemic status in March. He spent December 2019 training his replacement in Bangalore over the phone and has since applied to more than 440 jobs, which he keeps track of in a spreadsheet.

The pandemic has made the task of replacing his lucrative job in information technology data management even more challenging. 밒 went through 13 video interviews for just one position with an organization, which I didn뭪 get, said Mr. Bentley, 65.

Because he had lost his job, Mr. Bentley started to curtail his spending even before the pandemic. He cut out some expenses, like the 45-minute drives to Boston for a variety of events, including Harvard basketball games, jazz concerts, art exhibitions or meals at a favorite restaurant. The trips to Manhattan every couple of months for live music performances in Greenwich Village were also out: Amtrak, hotels, a two-drink minimum and meals would cost roughly $500.

밫he Strip House would cost an arm and a leg, he said, referring to a favorite steakhouse.

But those changes pale in comparison to those he뭩 been forced to make during the pandemic. 밒 don뭪 really go anywhere at all, he said. Searching for jobs, reading, cooking meals and exercising consume most of his day now. Grocery shopping, bike rides and walks on warmer days give him opportunities to leave his home a two-bedroom loft he owns in a converted textile mill.

Mr. Bentley뭩 20-year-old son is living with him, which means his grocery bill has increased to roughly $780 monthly, from around $320. His son covers his personal expenses with a part-time job at McDonald뭩, and Mr. Bentley helps pay for his community college tuition, though he hopes financial aid will soon reduce the bill to a more manageable amount. And when Mr. Bentley뭩 mother died in July at age 94, he paid for her funeral.

Unemployment helped cover much of his spending, but Mr. Bentley has tapped investment accounts he had been hoping to leave untouched for several more years. In August, when he will be 66, he plans to begin collecting his full benefit from Social Security. 밒 worked too hard over 43 years not to get full benefits, he said.

Mr. Bentley has made a few purchases a trailer hitch for his bike so he can drive to trails, a new MP3 player and a Lonnie Liston Smith album, 밨enaissance, on vinyl for about $15. (When he originally purchased the record in 1976, it cost him about $4.)

He hopes it won뭪 be much longer before he finds a new job, and Mr. Bentley has been careful not to put too many indications of his age on his rsum. 밇ven 50 is too old for I.T., he said. Ideally, he would have worked for at least two more years before he retired, but at this rate he뭠l lose two years of income that he may not be able to make up.

Until the next job comes along, Mr. Bentley뭩 spending and life won뭪 change much. After the pandemic, he expects he will return to church each week, but probably not the gym. The trips to see his favorite jazz singers in Manhattan will happen again, but perhaps only once or twice a year. The same with eating at restaurants.

Excerpts articles from The New York Times


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