If You’re Quarantined at Home, This Is an Opportunity to Re-Evaluate How You Use Money as a Tool

This article was originally written for and published on Business Insider

Staying at home, self-quarantining, and practicing social distancing through the coronavirus pandemic might have one silver lining: You may find yourself spending far less than you normally do.

Before I go further, let me be clear that this is an absolute luxury and a privilege in countless ways. Many, many people do not have the choice to stay home during this public health crisis as they are essential employees, healthcare workers, or first responders.

Those of us who can stay home, should, to both protect and show respect to the people who don’t have this choice.

And of course, if you’re spending less money than you usually do but you still earn the same income because you haven’t been impacted by the economic shutdown that resulted from most of us staying home, that’s a luxury, too.

You can make the most of this gift by taking it as an opportunity to re-evaluate some financial habits that you’ve probably slipped into without even noticing. Here’s how to do it.

Take advantage of this forced pattern interrupt

A pattern interrupt is a concept from psychology. The idea is that you can’t change a behavior if you’re not aware of it — and you might lack the awareness you need when things become part of your normal routine that just slips into the background.

How often do you really think about how much money you spend per month on lunches during the workday? Do you really track every cent you spend, or do you do some mental accounting so you remember your last Target run as costing “maybe $50 or so” (when in reality it was over $100)?

Now is an opportunity to actually notice what you previously spent on without giving it a second thought.

Compare what actually happened (not just what you remember)

Notice the differences between one month and the other. It might help to make this really visual: take out some highlighters in various colors.

As you review your transactions, use a red highlighter to identify anything that you currently regret spending money on. Use a yellow highlighter to identify things you were spending regularly on, that you can’t spend on right now — but you don’t miss having. With a green highlighter, mark any transactions that are extremely meaningful and important to you.

Evaluate where your money really goes, and decide if it’s worth it

By looking at what you don’t even miss right now that you normally spend on, you can easily identify what should be cut from your budget even after our quarantine period is over.

On the flipside, this exercise could make you acutely aware of how much value a certain purchase usually brings you. Doing without something that’s extremely important to you can verify how valuable that purchase is.

I’ll give you an example from our own spending history and how the time we’ve spent staying at home has influenced how my wife and I will budget going forward.

Before quarantining started, we loved going out for date nights. Obviously, how much we spend on restaurants, bars, and entertainment has dropped since we literally can’t “go out” right now.

We started to focus on how we can make our required date nights in feel special instead. This period of time has helped us change our habits from thinking things like, “Where should we go tonight?”, which always requires spending money, to things like, “What meal would be fun to cook together? Want to help me create this new playlist? Let’s play this card game while we eat.”

On a similar note, having more time at home to fill has pushed us to think differently about what counts as entertainment.

Learning something new via an online class, practicing a craft like writing or playing an instrument, or tinkering with a project has become our new go-to when we’re bored — rather than the old habit of going shopping or heading out to buy a coffee.

The silver lining of any tough time: reconnecting with your priorities

We also realized that we want to focus more on giving back and supporting local entrepreneurs now and once we’re on the other side of this crisis. We plan to create a new line item in our budget for spending or donating to local businesses, and allocating a portion of the money we’re not spending right now (and will cut back on in the future) to those in need.

Crises like this tend to shine a spotlight on our true priorities, so take some time to reflect and consider how your spending and savings habits align with what’s most important to you, or acknowledge if, up until now, they really haven’t been aligned at all.

If that’s the case, take this opportunity to recalibrate your budget and ensure you’re using your money in a way that reflects your values and your goals.

Want more financial advice you can actually use? Check out Beyond Your Hammock, a fee-only financial planning firm that specializes in helping 30- and 40-somethings get clarity and start building wealth.

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