How to Maintain Good Spending Habits During a Pandemic​

The pandemic has moved many people into uncharted territory, from experiencing social isolation to figuring out how to work and teach our children at home.  Some people are transitioning back to work and some kids are going back to school, but routines are hardly back to normal. These abrupt shifts in living situations are often difficult to manage; however, they also create opportunities to change ingrained habits that previously felt beyond your ability to change.

For better or worse, some of these shifting habits have likely impacted your personal finances.  Being aware of your spending habits before and during the pandemic will help you thrive as the pandemic wanes (fingers crossed!) and we ease back into something resembling our old routines.  Here are a few tips and general musings that will help you keep your spending habits aligned with your values.

Get focused on what’s important before you start up new spending

Shifting moods and moving goal posts sometimes make me feel reactive and prone to pursuing whatever momentary opportunity presents itself.  Looking forward to warmer weather and hopefully smoother sailing with the easing pandemic, I want to identify what is important and be intentional in my actions and my corresponding credit card swipes.

Some people adapt quicker than others to change.  Do you still struggle to feel grateful or satisfied with this new and uncertain lifestyle that was thrust upon you?  I have tried using negative visualization, a modern technique adapted from Roman Stoics.  This technique encourages you to envision all the things in your life that could go wrong or be so much worse than they are.  While it would be a mistake to spend all your time worrying about these things, this occasional exercise helps you appreciate what you do have.  William Irvine explains that pausing in your enjoyment of life to contemplate how it might be taken away can imbue the things we do with a significance that would otherwise be overlooked.

Here in northern Alaska, the cold-winter weather poses unique challenges for staying intentional with our relationships and keeping our habits functional.  It’s easy to get caught up in the same cycle without seeing the big picture through the darkness, literally. Instead of focusing on the dark, I pay attention during the day and am awed by the beauty of our continuous sunrise-into-sunsets scenes.  Just the other day, my family closed out the school day by ice skating at our local school rink and watched the red-orange sun trace lazily across the sky and make its way beyond the horizon.  While it may be colder here than, well, almost anywhere else you could live, I find myself surreptitiously celebrating each unseasonably warm day, so as not to jinx the moment.  I appreciate that the pandemic has seasoned me to be outside more and aware of these special moments.  Remember to periodically recognize the impermanence of your life and appreciate every moment you share with those you love.  That doesn’t cost you a dime!

Be on guard against potent and misleading advertising

If you are like me, online shopping at places like Amazon might now be a regular part of your life.  Starting in April 2020, I quickly figured out, like everyone else apparently, that online shopping would be an essential part of my pandemic plan, even if it takes a month for a package to arrive.  Born of necessity, I played the game and patiently waited for my orders.  Even as in-person shopping resumed, I wasn’t ready and kept up my on-line routine.  As the pandemic winds shift and the sun comes back anew, it’s possible you also are restless for old routines and imagine browsing slowly at favorite stores and visiting restaurants.  As you add back in-person experiences, like shopping and dining out, be conscientious of and make a plan to align spending with values.

It’s important to have a long-term approach to this transition, because small and big companies alike will be advertising full-time to get a piece of your paycheck.  On-line stores and services have been shifting their advertising campaigns to adapt to the on-line environment and will continue to keep your attention.  Amazon prime is offering specials to keep their new customers, McDonald’s “Contactless Order & Pay” campaign offers convenience that will seamlessly blend into your new lifestyle.  Dining out will be new and exciting and supporting local business can be very positive. Whether you continue to enjoy take-out, in-restaurant dining or both, be aware that all sources will be very appealing after months of feeling deprived of familiar experiences.

Take the time and effort now to think how you will allocate your shopping and dining-out spending before you switch to in-person so you don’t wind up blowing your budgets.  Make a plan for what you can reasonably afford and don’t let your emotions make the decision for you.

Keep the good habits and jettison the bad

Everyone has experienced some shift in their regular routine since the pandemic started.  While some of these changes have been undesirable, it’s also likely that some of these new habits are welcome and something you would like to keep up.

Some examples of positive gains in my life include working virtually with all my clients.  Is it possible to talk to your employer and continue to work remotely part-time in the future?  Is it possible to maintain some virtual music or other lessons and after-school activities for the kids, just so you don’t have to go back to driving them everywhere?  Or maybe you look forward to watching their swim lessons, and will use the opportunity to catch up on your favorite podcast, discovered during the pandemic.

As the pandemic eases and our life resumes, I hope to retain some of the approaches that the pandemic imposed upon us, while welcoming many old routines back with open arms. Take an inventory of what routines have failed to deliver and which have helped you flourish during the pandemic.  Dig into what aspects didn’t work and make a list of ways to improve it.  Recognize outwardly what new routines you developed that you want to maintain going forward.  Write them down.  You may not get to keep everything on the list you liked and you may have to revert back to some patterns that are not ideal, but recognize their importance to you by writing it down.

There isn’t a right or wrong place to spend your money and your values and lifestyle should guide you through finding the best options.  However, if you aren’t thoughtful about this transition, you may end up with both too much of everything, which could lead to overspending without you even realizing it. Be conscientious of your spending habits as your lifestyle shifts again. Use this informed approach to determine a realistic amount of your income that can go to these activities to ensure you are maintaining a lifestyle that is sustainable and satisfying.

Stop guessing. Start planning.