Tweaking Your Budget for When You Return to the Workplace | Saving and Budgeting
If you’re working from home, you may be expecting a call, text or email one of these days letting you know that it’s time to come back. Back to the office, the job site or wherever your career takes you.
After months – possibly working with a spouse and virtually schooled kids – you may be psychologically ready to go back to work, but is your wallet?
You were, after all, saving quite a bit of money working from home. So if you haven’t thought about it yet, you may want to think about how your financial picture is about to change. There are quite a few routine expenses that you may have forgotten about and may need to go back into your budget.
Becky Beach, a senior web developer at a corporation in Dallas, probably has a situation familiar to many employees. Last March, she was directed by her company to work remotely. Beach did just that, from her home in Arlington, Texas, and pulled her four-year-old son out of day care. For months, she was juggling work and child care. In her spare time, she also blogs for a work-at-home website for mothers she created called MomBeach.com.
But then on Sept. 28, Beach returned to her office in Dallas again, commuting 40 minutes – one way. Gas is pretty cheap in Texas ($1.75 a gallon, on average), and Beach’s car gets pretty good mileage. So she estimates she is spending about $20 a week on gas. Still, that’s $80 a month.
Monthly parking can easily run you into the hundreds of dollars, although maybe you’re lucky and your company provides free parking. In New York City, the average cost of a parking space is $400 a month, according to MonthlyParking.org.
Of course, you might take a bus or have tolls to pay. Maybe you ride an Uber or the subway to work. Make sure that when you budget for returning to work that you remember to factor in what you’re spending to get to your workplace.
What you spend will vary depending on where you eat and your appetite, of course. Beach says that her company has a café on site, and that’s both a good and bad thing.
“It’s very expensive. I try to bring my lunch but never have enough time (to prepare anything) in the morning,” Beach says.
So she generally goes to the café and spends $15 for a meal, which can mean she is shelling out $75 a week or $300 a month for lunch.
On the other side of the coin is Laura Burgess, an assistant dean at the school of management at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Before the pandemic, she says she always made her lunch at home and brought it to her office. Then in March, along with Beach and the rest of the country, she began working from home. She started returning to her office a few days a week in late August. She hasn’t gone back to her office every day yet since her sons, Will, 11 years old, and Levi, 9, are still attending school virtually. (When Burgess goes to work, her husband stays at home and vice versa.)
But now that she is going to work, Burgess prefers seeing people in person and isn’t too keen on eating lunch at her desk.
“So now when I’m working on campus, I find that I’ve been buying lunch and meeting up with people to eat outdoors more frequently than I ever would have before,” Burgess says. “Regaining that casual face-to-face conversational experience, especially before the weather gets too cold, has been worth spending the extra lunch money on.”
She figures she is shelling out $20 a week – hardly a fortune, fortunately.
Last year, the market research firm NPD Group determined that the average cup of coffee costs $2.99. Whatever you’re paying, it probably feels like too much, although if somebody suggested you stop buying and drinking coffee to save money, you might be tempted to toss a cup of cold brew or lukewarm coffee in their face.
So we’re not about to do that.
Beach says she spends $3.75 a day on a latte.
You may find that you need to buy business attire or get it dry-cleaned. Gustavo Mayen, an attorney in Boston, has had to work from home for much of the pandemic.
“It seems like it’s two steps forward, one step back due to the virus,” Mayen says.
While Mayen hasn’t needed to go out and buy a new wardrobe for his occasional returns to court, he does need to dry-clean his suits, and he says that when he takes them in to the dry cleaner, it generally will set him back as much as $100.
Personal Protection Equipment
It’s easy to think, “Well, why should I factor this into my budget? I just buy a mask, which I need whether I work at an office or my home.” True, you may not need to factor PPE into your budget. But it depends on your job and situation.
Mayen often needs to be closer than six feet to his clients, so they can have some privacy. Otherwise, they’d be talking loudly to Mayen and possibly the entire courtroom. “Because of this, I have to buy the more expensive masks,” Mayen says.
He has been purchasing KN95 masks. To give you an idea of how much those cost, a 10-pack on Amazon.com will, at the time of this writing, run you $26.05. If you buy a pack of 50 of three-ply disposable face masks, you’ll spend $18.99.
“I also bring my own sanitizer, that I use constantly, and I also bring a few pairs of gloves, in case I need to use them to handle something,” Mayen says.
So, yes, PPE supplies can add up.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that if your child care is no more than 7% of your family’s income, then it’s affordable. More than that, and your budget could be in trouble. In any case, child care is expensive. Beach says she spends a little over $1,000 a month on day care for her 4-year-old son, Bryan.
You can see what the average annual cost of infant and child care is in your state and get a sense if you’re paying far more or less than the average.
Budget, Budget, Budget
Whatever you were spending going to work pre-pandemic, it was probably more than you realized or wanted. So if you haven’t gone back to work in your office yet but know that day is coming, it might not be a bad idea to do an overhaul of your yearly or monthly budget.
Take a look at whether you’re putting enough away for your retirement and in your emergency fund. If your health care has increased, you’ll want to factor that in. And as it is hopefully more than clear, you’ll definitely want to take a look at your back-to-work costs. Maybe things will balance out a little, with you spending less on electricity at home and maybe buying fewer groceries.
Still, it is definitely expensive doing your job from an office, cubicle or workspace, so plan the best way to save.