Where your money led you this pandemic


Where your money led you this pandemic

By Angana Sripur · · 6 min read

Back in February of 2020, I’d gone to watch the Oscar-winning movie ‘Parasite’ with my friends. I wore a mask to the theatre, even if it meant I risked getting ridiculed. Murmurs of a global pandemic were only faint back then, but I wasn’t going to take my chances. After our movie session, we went to grab lunch and drinks at a popular local eatery. Little did we know that life as we know it, would not be the same again this year.

If life is intriguing under the duress of a looming apocalypse then there’s one thing that’s even more intriguing: what people do with their money during such a time. In May, we started getting used to the idea of being holed up in our spaces and wrote a piece about the kind of money habits one can cultivate this lockdown. Now I thought it’d be worth exploring where our money has finally led us this year. I’m talking about pets, home improvement, weeknight takeouts, and workout classes.

It seems like the things we chose to reduce or increase spending on, tell a deeper story. About our need to connect with something, distract ourselves from the void or just find better and more productive ways to use our money and to cut down spending. Here’s how we changed this year:

We started making some long-term commitments in 2020

No, we’re not referring to people getting hitched amid a global pandemic, but more of the streaming subscription kinda commitment. Netflix reported that it added 28.1 million subscriptions in the first nine months of this year. The streaming giant started to see a surge in subscribers just about three months into the pandemic. Huh. Guess more people got to see Joe Exotic and his pet tiger’s charm amirite. While discretionary expenses reduced sharply during the lockdown, the months of May and June saw a jump in entertainment spends on OTT platforms and online games.

Where you could be going with this: Once you go to Netflix, it’s hard to go back. You might want to hold on to your subscriptions because it seems like OTT is fast replacing the cinema, both in terms of quality and quantity. Besides, the sheer joy of paying for something once but being able to experience the benefits over some time feels pretty good.

We also sought out comfort food to accompany our streaming habits

Remember that dystopian movie where the protagonist ran out of Maggi and had to resort to eating his roommate’s flesh? Guess we aren’t describing the plot of a movie, as much as the state of our supermarkets this year. Nestle India Ltd. saw a surge in sales of Maggi for the quarter of March. People were also stocking up on biscuits and KitKat bars.

Where you could be going with this: You may continue to lean on comfort foods even after you’re able to go to restaurants again simply because ordering-in has become a matter of convenience. Maybe the pandemic has urged you to re-examine your non-discretionary expenses, like chilling in a bar every Friday night over drinks?

We’re spending more on living things this pandemic

My friend on the phone: “So how are you spending time this year?”

Me: “I don’t know. Things have gotten excruciatingly boring, I’m almost thinking I should get a pet?”

My friend: “But you hate pets!”

Me: I know

If this conversation sounds familiar then it’s probably a case of lockdown pet syndrome (alright I might have made up that word). But lockdown loneliness is real, and it seems that people are getting themselves pets to cope with the sense of silent dread that fills their home. People who already have pets were also seen spending more on toys and treats. Lucky year for pets I’d say.

Where you could be going with this: It seems that an increase in pet-buying is directly proportional to the intensity of one’s loneliness tehehe. Once you’re out and about meeting people again, you may just stick to buying that cactus for your work desk that dies every three months.

Get this: Our Long-term savings might not have increased enough for us to buy those AirPods

You’d think that if people were living in their peejays and skipping Friday drinks, that they’d save a ton of money. It turns out that most people’s small budget changes don’t actually amount to a significant increase in long-term savings. We were a little surprised by this hypothesis too, except it adds up because most of these budget cuts were forced upon people and they’re going to revert to their pre-pandemic spending levels post lockdown.

Where you could be going with this: While spending cuts in themselves might not have increased savings, we did see that people were investing a lot more this year. In fact, a lot of people had their first foray into investing because they had more time on their hands to learn the nuances, as well as some additional disposable income. So you could end up investing a greater portion of your income, as a result of this pandemic.

Home workouts are the new normal

Well, I probably don’t have to state the obvious but I am writing a blog on lockdown trends and how can I miss the biggest truth bomb of 2020: No one goes to the gym anymore. Few days into a global pandemic, people quickly realized that they can do without a gym subscription that costs as much as a month’s worth of pizza, and one can replicate these ‘workouts’ at home no-sweat. Funnily enough, other areas of self-care such as grooming have also reduced owing to the fact that people haven’t been going out.

Where you could be going with this: You’re more likely to stick to virtual lessons and home routines for beauty and fitness-related needs. You know, the whole ‘once a habit has formed for 90 days’ rule.

While these are just some things we did differently this year, there’s a bunch of other stuff that changed the way we spend our money. From upping home entertainment gadgets to picking up new gardening hobbies, 2020 has not only changed the way we spend our money but also our time. It’s the kind of drastic change in people’s spending curve that civilization gets to witness once every few decades. And we can’t say we aren’t intrigued to see the graph change hereon.

However, here’s a bunch of learnings that I took away about my money this pandemic that I’m definitely going to carry into next year:

  • When you’re not spending like ‘everything is normal’, you’re going to put your money to use very differently: from discovering hacks that can help you save better to actually using your savings for more productive pursuits. Whether it’s replacing an overpriced brunch with a cooking class online, or skipping a shopping spree to learn a new language, 2021 will be a lot more about thoughtful spending.
  • Discretionary expenses have a whole new meaning. When a global pandemic makes you realize the things and people that are most essential in your life, you also tend to revisit the ‘spends’ you thought were absolutely essential. Do you really need three packets of spaghetti or two flavors of lip balm that are going to expire on your shelf in six months?
  • Financial literacy is more important than anything you learned in school. 2021 will be all about digging deep into the trenches of the internet to understand the 30 percent rule or learn the difference between equity and debt funds. Having YOLOed with my money for most of my adult life, this is certainly a good time to educate myself about the various ways in which to save and invest.
  • Make sure that my money works for me, not just that I work for my money. It took a global pandemic to realize that it takes actual effort to make use of the money you earn. You can’t just park it in a fixed deposit and think it will magically make your life better. Actively finding ways to optimize your earning and spending ratio is a time-taking effort and one that’s important.

Anyhoo, now that I made these throwbacks, forecasts, and gave you unwarranted lessons just like five million other people on the internet, I’m going to spend the rest of my evening watching Hallmark Christmas movies. See you in 2021.

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