The 3 Breaks: Updating Your Spending Plan Mid-Lockdown
March 16, 2020. 6 months and 2 weeks ago. Novi Wealth’s work from home began.
When I first arranged the announcement that the Novi Wealth team would begin working from home, I still had a vacation to Hawaii planned in May. I thought for sure this would be over by then. Two weeks later, New York was placed on lock down and my husband, Donavan, was told he would be on furlough for the “foreseeable future.”
Admittedly, my husband’s furlough should have been the wake-up call that it was time to bring out our budget book but actually it wasn’t until my gym closed and suspended membership costs that I finally sat down to look at what we were (and were not) spending.
Firstly: I hate the word budget. It’s like the word diet. It makes reviewing the inflow and outflow of cashflow seem like a fad that I won’t keep up with. And, considering that reviewing a budget is time consuming and no fun, I prefer to think of it as a spending plan. Why? Because plans change. Deviation happens. Framing it that way helps me remember that a spending plan is a constantly changing and ever flexible tool.
My spending plan is based on the 50/30/20 Budget Plan Template which breaks down expenses in Necessities, Wants, and Savings. The goal being to attribute 50% of income to necessities, 30% to wants, and 20% to building up an emergency fund. When we created our spending plan, it makes sense to determine what constituted a “necessity” versus a “want,” but I never thought to define what an emergency was.
It seems silly now, but five months ago, my husband and I had to debate what constituted an emergency? We have worked so hard to build our emergency savings fund – but had never stopped to determine what an emergency looked like. If we were to dip into our savings, how much would we need? What should it cover?
We went over the questions that came up because of the COVID-19 lockdown, but here is how we arrived at our answers.
Step One: Income.
Since my income was not changing, we already had one figure. A quick Google search provided the approximate answer of how much Donavan could expect weekly from NYC unemployment and the PUA stipend. So once we had an approximation of total income, we had to decide how it would be spent.
Step Two: Necessities/Life Needs
In our households, necessities can be explained as anything needed to make life functional. Rent, food, transportation, utilities, and loans.
Quickly breaking it down, we made the following approximations:
Rent → No change.
Food → Food is life in my house and since Donavan is a literal chef, I knew we would not want to skimp on our grocery allotment. We figured we would be home twice as much and would eat twice as much.
Transportation →Greatly reduced. We still had car payments but at most we’d each fill our gas tanks once a month but train tickets, parking garage fees, bus and subway fare were eliminated
Utilities → again, we figured we would be home twice and would use twice as much in most utilities.
Loans → The majority of our loans are federal; so this expense was reduced.
Step Three: Wants
Lockdown is difficult. At the time that Donovan and I reviewed our spending plan, we were four weeks into what we thought was a lockdown which would last another 4-6 weeks. We’d previously agreed to a once-a-week takeaway. Other than that, we tried to limit luxuries without complete elimination. Instead of trying to assign a percentage of our remaining budget to spend, we settled on an amount of money per month for little luxuries.
Step Four: Savings
This was both the hardest and easiest part. At this point, we calculated, that we would be able to cover Necessities and Wants with our Total Income. In fact, knowing that we’d overestimated some of our necessities (like utilities, which we know would increase but not exactly double since some utilities are fixed amounts – like garbage) – we figured we already had a built-in cushion. Still, we would not be able to save what we were used to.
Ultimately, we decided that we could still save 10%, with the agreement that if there were month with “extra” from our cushion that money would also go into our saving account.
We’ve made changes to how we travel, shop, and eat out. It is just as important that you make changes to your spending plan. It may not simple or quick, but it is necessary to revise your plan as you revise your life. The little and sometimes difficult changes early will minimize many issues and put you on the right track for the future. And, of course, the Novi Wealth team is always happy to help if you need some guidance.