My wife and I are rediscovering how to live on less this year. She works for a school district that allows her to take a sabbatical every few years, and she planned a much-needed break before the pandemic hit. During her sabbatical year, she gets paid just 60% of her normal salary, so we're learning to live on less.
We are luckier than most people who are struggling financially right now. Our tight budget is temporary, and we both still have health insurance through her job. My freelance writing business has stayed relatively steady during the pandemic, which helps. Still, we have had to make cuts to our household budget.
We have the benefit of experience. When I went through a career change seven years ago, finances were very tight until I reestablished myself. Many of the strategies for living on the cheap that we used then will come in handy now.
COVID-19 has made it easy to cut expenses
The pandemic makes everything harder, including spending money. A lot of the things we loved doing in what I think of as "the before times" aren't open or we don't feel safe now. Here are some of the savings baked in by the coronavirus.
- Public transit. I used to spend about $50 a month on public transit, plus another $30 on Lyft. I gave up my bike-share membership, which saves me about $10 a month. Since she's not commuting for work and her sabbatical classes are all online, my wife is saving over $100 on transit every month.
- Self-care. I love pedicures and massages, but those aren't happening right now and I wouldn't feel safe even if they were. Between the two of us, this saves about $150 per month. I've been cutting my wife's hair, saving about $50 per month. (After getting very shaggy, I'm back at the salon because I'm a diva about my hair and that is one amenity I'm not giving up.)
- Entertainment. We love going to movies and the theater. A movie night out, with popcorn, costs about $35. We don't go to live theater as often, but two tickets to a performance can cost $100 to $200. On average, entertainment (beyond streaming subscriptions) costs us about $135 per month, and that's now down to zero.
- Eating out. We do some takeout but mostly eat in now. In the past, between the two of us, we would eat about six meals out a week, and now that's down to takeout for two once a week. That's a savings of about $80 per week or $240 a month.
- Healthcare. We've put off some routine appointments. Our cat is not getting acupuncture (I know, I know – but she's very temperamental and acupuncture is the only thing that helps). We are delaying some routine care, though we will continue to see the doctor when we need to. This saves around $60 a month, on average.
- Travel. We are skipping two cross-country trips to visit family that we normally take every year. Between airfare, hotels, and meals, each two-week trip would have set us back about $5,000. Instead, we're taking three to four shorter trips close to home. Because hotels are offering bargains, those trips will cost us a total of less than $2,500, so that's a savings of $7,500 in 2020. Of course, if things change in 2021, the first thing I'm going to do is hop on a plane and visit my family, so that's money I will spend if I can.
Our pandemic savings total comes out to about $1,450 per month if we can't get on an airplane in the new year. That gives us a leg up on tightening our budget, though these are sad ways to save money.
Here's where else we will save money
A smaller budget has shown us our priorities. The house cleaner is still coming because we want to support her and we value having a cleaner house. But we need to cut back beyond what the pandemic has done for us. Here are some of the ways we are living on less.
- Retirement savings. My wife has reduced her automatic retirement contribution by $500 per month. I continue to contribute to my IRA, but I won't open a planned SEP IRA and increase my retirement savings until next year.
- Groceries. I do the grocery shopping for our household and I've found ways to save 20% on fresh fruits, veggies, and prepared foods by shopping at the farmers market. I was using Instacart for the first few months of the pandemic, but I'm going to the grocery store again. That saves me about 25% in Instacart fees and tips. I'm shopping at Trader Joe's and Costco instead of my local health food store, and that reduces my grocery bill even further. Between all these strategies, I have shaved about $400 off my pandemic high monthly grocery bills.
- Shopping. OK, I love to shop. Shopping for clothes and jewelry online was one of the only things that cheered me up during the spring. But the truth is I can cut way back on my shopping habit and it will probably improve my quality of life. I'll save about $100 a month by buying less.
This is another $1,000 in savings. We're getting close to where we need to be to live within our means. We will find more places to cut back before we dip into savings. For example, we pay $150 extra toward the principal on our mortgage every month, and we can stop that payment temporarily. We can cut back further on charitable giving and memberships.
There's one more challenge, however: the travel portion of my wife's sabbatical.
Travel on a budget
The second half of my wife's sabbatical requires her to travel. I had envisioned spending a month living and writing in Paris, but the pandemic nixed that romantic notion. While she will be on the road for most of next semester, she's had to drastically change her plans.
So, she bought a used car for $2,000 and will do a road trip. She plans to sleep in the car and visit friends, so she can stay safe from the virus. That will save money, too. Sadly, I will probably be home during that time, working hard to earn money to plug holes in our family budget. Paris is a dream for another year.
This article was written by Laura McCamy from Business Insider and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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