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How to budget for returning to the office

If you’re among those going back to the office this spring, here’s what you need to know

When you go back to the office, what expenses are likely to go back into your budget? If you were able to work remotely during the pandemic, you may have saved money on parking passes, happy hours and clothes that aren’t sweatpants — but now that offices are inviting employees to return to their old desks, many of these office-related expenses are likely to return as well.

Plus, with inflation at a forty-year high, nearly everything you buy as you prepare to return to the workplace is likely more expensive than it was the last time you purchased it — whether you’re filling up your car with gas, packing your lunch, or shopping for a new pair of work-appropriate shoes.

“With inflation nearing 8% and the inverted yield curve tilting toward a recession, the average American household will struggle with the upcoming cost of living crisis,” says Lawrence Delva-Gonzalez, a government auditor and financial literacy educator who runs The Neighborhood Finance Guy.

This means that you need to make your back-to-work purchases with as much care and attention as you put into your day-to-day work assignments — because saving money, in this case, is likely to come down to planning ahead.

In this article:

How to rebudget for office expenses

Before you ask yourself whether you need to adjust your budget to go back to the office, ask yourself how your spending habits changed when you began working at home.

“I would recommend that people take a look at how their spending today has changed compared to their spending before the pandemic started,” advises Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks. If you were able to save money while working from home, for example, you might be able to use some of those savings to purchase office-related items like new clothing.

However, Wang notes that most of us used at least a portion of our work-from-home savings to make our home more comfortable — whether that meant buying a fire pit for the backyard or turning part of our home into a Zoom Room. We may also have put more money towards time-saving essentials like takeout dinners. “For those who replaced work-related spending with other expenses, like ordering takeout for meals, it will require them to shift their spending from those replacements back to the originals.”

Rebudgeting for office expenses — rebudgeting for anything, really — ultimately comes down to three big questions:

“Regardless of where the funds come from, I recommend that you ease back into it and make the transition slowly if you can,” says Wang. “There may be the temptation for a rebound effect, where you start going out to lunch and happy hour every day with colleagues and friends you haven’t seen in person in a few years. Resist the temptation because it can seriously derail your budget. Start back slowly or find other, less costly, ways to spend time with your colleagues.”

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How to purchase work-appropriate clothes

While you may be able to cut back on certain types of office-related expenses — buying one drink instead of two at happy hour, for example, or getting your burrito without guac — many of us are going to need to invest in some new work-appropriate clothes.

Gonzalez suggests buying clothes made of fabric that can adjust as you re-adjust to office life. Your body may have changed during the pandemic, and you may experience additional physical changes as you transition from home to office — so plan ahead and shop accordingly. “Look for suits and denim that have flexible material. They’re comfortable and give you some room to adjust while boosting your confidence.”

If you already own a high-quality work wardrobe but need to upgrade due to changes in size or shape, you can always keep your old clothes around in case you find yourself in a position to wear them again — but you can also make some quick cash by selling your used clothes online. “Sell off your older unused clothes so you can pocket the surplus cash,” Gonzalez advises.

How to pack affordable workplace lunches

One of the best ways to save money and improve your health is by packing an affordable, nutritious workplace lunch — and you can save even more money, as Gonzalez reminds us, by eating an affordable, nutritious breakfast.

“Meal-prepping is still king in your budget,” says Gonzalez, “but with a twist. I would recommend that you sleep earlier to get your 7 hours and wake up to make a big breakfast before work. Something that’s rich in nutrients and that jumpstarts your body.”

Eating breakfast helps you avoid overeating — and overspending — at lunch. “The whole point is to trick your wallet and your waistline while beating inflation,” Gonzalez explains. A light lunch, in turn, helps you avoid the afternoon slump and gives you an incentive to prep and eat an early dinner. Getting your evening meal on the table before anyone in the family gets hangry also prevents overeating, which can save you money on food costs and make your evening more pleasant — and finishing your evening meal with time to spare often leads to an earlier bedtime for the whole family and a better night’s sleep.

How to combat the costs of inflation

Planning ahead before you make purchases is one way to combat the costs of inflation — whether you’re shopping for stretchy clothing or stocking up on steel-cut oats. As you anticipate additional return-to-work expenses, you may want a few additional tips to help you both save and earn extra cash.

Wang suggests looking for credit card or bank promotions. “Credit cards will give you hundreds of dollars of cash back as a welcome bonus,” he says. If you have enough cash to cover the up-front costs associated with these bonuses, you could come out a few hundred dollars ahead — and, as Wang reminds us, “a few hundred dollars can go a long way to combating inflation!”

Gonzalez also suggests using the financial system to combat the costs of inflation, starting with your emergency fund and your investment portfolio. “Most people cut saving and investing when times get tough. Do the opposite.” By investing in yourself — whether you’re saving for retirement, building recession-proof career skills or working towards financial independence — you’ll be prepared to navigate not only your transition back to the office, but all of the transitions to come.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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