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How to soften back-to-the-office sticker shock

by | Apr 25, 2022 | SELF-PUBLISHED

Tips for saving money when heading back to the office

More employees who have been working from home these past two years are now heading towards giving up their casual wear, donning some business basics, and getting back to the office. But the new environment can feel strange at first. And workers will definitely feel the change in their spending habits. So here’s a look at what areas will cost more and where might be able to cut back to soften the blow of office sticker shock.

Supply chain interruptions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and strong consumer demand have all played a role in driving inflation to a 40-year high. Gas prices, food away from home, apparel, and transportation expenses are all up from a year ago, as the consumer price index was up 5.7% year-over-year in February. Add increasing childcare costs to the mix, and you’ll be paying a lot more to go back to the office than you did two years ago. Short of negotiating a permanent remote work-from-home arrangement, returning employees have to get creative to keep those expenses down. The good news is there are many ways to do that.

Childcare. Even before the pandemic, childcare costs were soaring, eating up a large chunk of household budgets. For about two years, you’ve been able to look after your kids at home, while working from home. And your childcare costs might have dropped to near zero. But returning to work means you have to make childcare arrangements again with your regular daycare, sitter, or preschool – and that means cost will ramp up significantly.

So finding ways to curb this expense is important. That’s where family, friends, and neighbours can help. If you can’t enlist someone to watch your child or children for free or on the cheap, see if you can split the cost of a nanny or babysitter with a friend or neighbour. Changing your work schedule to limit the need for childcare can also help you save money. 

Summer childcare. When “summer break” officially starts, will your regular childcare option be available? Consider the costs of sitters, daycare, or for older kids, summer camp or day camp.

Commuting costs. This is a big reason many workers are reluctant to go back to office work. The commute involves both time and stress, and that adds up to a significant increase in costs – for gas, parking, or transit fare. 

These days, the price of gas is the biggest hurdle. Reduce costs by shopping around for the best price, limiting the number of trips you take, and maintaining your car. Think about substitutions like public transit, carpooling, riding a bike or walking if practical. In a two-car household, use the car that’s most economical on gas for the longest commute. Try carpooling together some or all of the way to each other’s office. If you can, arrange work hours to start and leave during off-peak times. 

Lunch. Lunch at the office often means a sandwich shop, fast-food restaurant, or food truck. Because of inflation, you’re going to have some more sticker shock at the price of that cellophane wrapped meal. To lessen the blow, consider bringing your lunch from home. That can cut the cost of lunch from around $20 down to $5. Plan a bit more and ask yourself whether what you’re spending for lunch each day is truly worth it. A side benefit is that you’ll likely eat healthier as well as cheaper. 

New clothes. Very likely, your discretionary spending has been significantly reduced over the past couple of years. You just haven’t been incurring commuting and work-related costs or spending on discretionary leisure and recreations expenses like eating out, theatres, concerts, trips, and so on. 

So after months of wearing sweatpants and loungewear, you may face some apparel anxiety when getting back to the office. The temptation is to run out and buy a whole new work wardrobe. But be careful! You haven’t done this for awhile, and going on a shopping spree amid soaring inflation can get pricey. Instead, take stock of what’s in your closet and try to work with what you have. If you need to freshen up the look, look for sales, off labels, and discount stores and do it in easy stages instead of blowing the bundle in a single spree.

© 2023 by Robyn K. Thompson. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. This article is for information only and is not intended as personal investment or financial advice.

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