In the course of reporting this article, I spoke with people whose monthly expenses have fallen by hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars during the pandemic. They’re spending less on daily comforts that are now dangerous, or merely unnecessary, including eating out, entertainment, new clothes, and extracurriculars for their kids.
Travel cutbacks in particular are keeping large amounts of cash in people’s accounts. Lyn Alden, a 33-year-old investment researcher in New Jersey, told me that by skipping one short trip to New York City and two longer ones to visit relatives in Florida and Egypt, her family reduced their travel spending by about $15,000 this year.
Other spending cuts are more minor, but still add up. “One of the largest costs prior to the pandemic was my ‘bad’ habit of eating out nearly every day at work,” Jeremiah Stanley, a 40-year-old engineer at a tech company in North Carolina, wrote to me in an email. “The office culture is to have [lunch] meetings off-campus and this [costs] about $23 a day.” Lately, he’s been working from home and making ham sandwiches instead, leaving him an extra $400 a month to spend or save. Overall, he estimates that he and his girlfriend have together been spending about $750 less on food each month.
Another remote worker I heard from, Taryn, who is in her late 20s and works at an accounting firm in the Chicago area, estimated that she’s spending $400 less per month during the pandemic. She and her husband qualified for $2,400 in stimulus payments earlier this year, even though “we didn’t need the money,” she said—she currently makes $87,000 a year.
“It honestly feels pretty good, but it also feels kind of strange,” Taryn said. “It’s a weird feeling of Oh yeah, I’ve got extra money! but also I want to buy things, but there’s no reason to buy things.” (She requested that I publish only her first name, because of the sensitive nature of her job.)
Instead of buying things, Taryn and her husband have put that extra money toward a down payment for a house. They previously thought about buying one next spring, but since mortgage rates have fallen to historic lows, they’re buying one now—so in that sense, the pandemic has brought them closer to their financial goals.
Read: How the pandemic has changed us already
To others higher up the income scale, the additional cash is much less consequential. “We’re really privileged … Honestly, our life doesn’t change a ton” with extra money, says Byron Hing, a 39-year-old lawyer at a tech company in San Francisco, whose family of five has been spending about $3,000 less a month during the pandemic. Another interviewee, a 60-something in Southern California working in finance, told me, “I hate to be the bourgeoisie, but there’s a point where you have enough money and it doesn’t make any difference.”