Cover photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

Comparing my discretionary spending pre- and post-COVID

[Cross-posted from LinkedIn, with some revisions]

Prompted by my colleague Kat’s post “How COVID-19 changed my spending habits“, I decided to piggyback on her idea. Here’s what I found.

[But first, the mechanics: I analyzed my spending by week, and the dividing line I chose for pre/post-COVID was the end of week 12 — March 21. I worked my last day in the office earlier that week, and that’s pretty much when my spending habits changed. Also, I have to acknowledge how lucky I am that my income was unaffected by COVID-19, so I had the luxury of keeping my spending the same if I wanted to.]

Overall, my spending stayed mostly flat. Week over week my spending was only 2.2% higher post-COVID. I actually expected it to be more than that; not sure why. Maybe it’s all the boxes showing up at my house.

A few expenses, unsurprisingly, stopped dead. I’ve not been to the office since March, so my transit expense ended abruptly. Working from home also meant no more dry cleaning bills – you don’t need to dry clean t-shirts, right? – and I stopped buying lunches around the office. I’d also used a house cleaning service prior to COVID, but in a pandemic that’s a no-go, so apart from a one-time clean I had them do on the new house before I moved in, that expense also went to $0.

My Uber spending dropped more than I would have thought. That’s Uber ride share, mind you, not Uber Eats. Very, very different story there. Anyway, I guess I just had nowhere to go, so this (relatively small) expense line dropped 72%.

Oh, hello Peloton. I am charging, I can charge, I will charge, I do charge. Monthly, since May, when I got my bike.

The main event: food & drink. All told, this top-levelcategory was up ~12.5%, but there were several puts and takes in there:

  • Dining out at restaurants dropped by 92%, and I’m pretty sure all that’s left in that category is the odd visit to a coffee shop.
  • Ordering in / picking up food jumped plenty though, up 109%.
  • My weekly spending on groceries (including Goodfood boxes) doubled. Like, exactly doubled.
  • Spending on alcohol tripled post-COVID. *cough cough* Sorry mom. Now, I should qualify this: in raw numbers, alcohol spending increased just less than my combined dining (restaurants + ordering in) expense decreased. So I’m probably drinking more wine, but paying less restaurant markup.

Cash is effectively dead to me. Since mid-March I have used ATMs exactly twice, both times to withdraw cash in scenarios where I knew I’d need to tip people on the spot. Otherwise I’d be perfectly happy never to visit another ATM. (Again, I have that luxury. A cashless existence is, at the moment, more available to affluent segments than lower-income; in a world where we’re suddenly very aware of how germ-ridden physical cash is, we need accessible alternatives.)

And now for the completely obvious: I did not travel. Since writing this for LinkedIn I realized I missed one major category, largely because I budget for it separately: travel. That expense went down 89% in 2020. The only trip I took was to Madrid & Cairo in January. Other than that we had a single weekend away in Elora this summer. C’est tout. Pretty safe to say all that money went straight into the new house, as the back yard is as exotic a locale as I’ll see for the foreseeable future.


Cover photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

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