Understanding your monthly/annual cash flow is a top priority in creating a financial plan. Regardless of a client’s net worth, I always begin with a realistic baseline of monthly spending so we can project future changes to cash flow such as a new home, a new baby, or a new job.
Fixed expenses are easy to pin down but variable expenses take a bit more time and finesse.
In 2020 a lot of my clients saw their variable spending decrease in obvious categories such as restaurants, entertainment, personal care, and travel. But in other categories spending increased. Whether they spent on a tutor for their child now distance learning from the dining room table, home gym equipment, a second car or new patio furniture, many families spent roughly the same amount of money in 2020.
What I’ve found so interesting about these conversations with clients is how the past year revealed our priorities and our shortcomings. Online shopping, food delivery, and streaming services saw an incredible increase in demand as we sat at home biding our time. Now that everyone has a year-end credit card statement available to reflect on this past year, it’s helpful to integrate these priorities as we ease out of covid-restrictions and return to a more normal lifestyle (hopefully).
Here are a few takeaways from my experience:
Fitness - I believe everyone is in one of three camps when it comes to exercise during a pandemic. 1) You’re that guy doing burpees in the park at 6am. 2) You’re a Peloton fanatic. (And no, I didn’t ask for your screen name). 3) You’re still making sourdough bread in your loungewear, how very Spring 2020 of you. My plan, I’m going to stick with the new routine and funnel the amount we used to spend on gym memberships and niche classes into a more necessary category.
Personal Care - salons in my area have been closed or extremely limited. I’ve appreciated the return to low-maintenance hair and nails. The occasional massage feels like an indulgence whereas the routine pedicure felt like a chore.
Restaurants - I love almost everything about going out to dinner. Finding a new restaurant to check out, having someone else prepare the meal (and clean the dishes), the fact that we don’t have to agree on what to order because each person can choose their own dish. But it’s easy to lose track of restaurant spending. Picking up coffee and a muffin on a regular basis really adds up. Ordering take out after a hellacious day is a lifesaver. Ordering takeout because I’m out of meal ideas is just laziness. I look forward to returning to restaurants and supporting these local businesses on special occasions.
Entertainment - There’s one thing I’m still not sick of and it’s TV. There’s so many shows and we only subscribe to 2 services, imagine if we had Hulu or Disney+ or Peacock. I’m content having movie night at home and waiting for the next big blockbuster before I get back into a movie theater. Live performances are another story, I will gladly support theater and live music when it returns but I’ll do so selectively and cherish the experience.
Travel - I can’t believe it’s been nearly one year since I’ve been on an airplane. The last time I went this long without flying was probably the mid-eighties when I was in pre-school. In the meantime, we’ve found a few regional destinations between the coast and the mountains that we love and we’ll definitely go back. Saving up for a once every two year vacation makes a lot more sense for our family.
My list certainly isn’t true for everyone. Remember it’s about returning to your own priorities. Spend on the experience that provides you the most reward, the most fulfillment, the most bang for your buck. Save in areas where you're indifferent to the product or service.