And as more people get vaccinated, the wedding receptions, parties and reunions are back on, making you feel like you need to lavish money on presents, airline tickets and restaurant tabs.
A year of forced austerity is now giving way to post-pandemic spending sprees.
The New York Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Expectations found that expectations for median household spending growth rose to a high of 5 percent in May, up from 4.6 percent in April. “The increase was broad-based but more pronounced among respondents with annual household incomes of more than $100,000,” the report said.
Personal savings rates throughout the pandemic increased for a lot of families, even while millions were struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
The pressure is back on to spend money on clothes, eating out and social experiences. For those who have the financial ability to splurge, here are five reasons to avoid returning to pre-pandemic spending sprees.
1. Consumer prices are still rising. Prices grew 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the largest 12-month increase since August 2008. Prices for new and used cars and trucks, household furnishings, airline fares and apparel continue to drive inflation, the bureau reported. The cost of eating out rose 4 percent relative to the same month last year.
I get it. You’re eager to eat out and hit the malls. But be careful that your pent-up demand for shopping doesn’t derail the financial progress you made in the past year. With rising prices, if you must spend, spend less.
Consider putting off a major expenditure until prices stabilize. The beaches will still be there next year.
2. Saving is still paramount. Since pandemic shutdowns took effect, Americans have saved an average of 18.3 percent of after-tax income every month, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s almost two and a half times the 2019 average of 7.5 percent. The savings rate hit a record high of 33.7 percent in April 2020.
What financial resources could you tap if you lost your job or had a significant disruption in your income?
“One common measure of financial resiliency is whether people have savings sufficient to cover three months of expenses if they lost their primary source of income,” according to a Fed report on the economic well-being of U.S. households. “… Forty percent of adults who were laid off in the past 12 months could not cover three months of expenses by any means were they to lose their job or government benefits.”
This crisis is passing, but another will come along. Don’t forget the lesson learned, which is that having more savings can help you better weather a job loss or disruption in your income.
3. Your retirement savings still need a boost. Many workers not yet retired are fairly pessimistic about their retirement finances, according to the latest data from Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance survey. Gallup found that only a slim majority of non-retirees in the United States expect they will have enough money to live comfortably in their retirement.
“Although three-fourths of non-retired adults had at least some retirement savings, about one-fourth did not have any,” this Fed said in its report on economic well-being. Thirty-six percent of working adults thought their retirement savings were on track, while 45 percent said they were not and the rest were not sure, the Fed said.
Consider this: Social Security was the most common source of income in retirement in 2020. The average monthly benefit for retired workers is $1,544.
If you were able to cut your spending during the pandemic, hopefully you directed some of that money into an IRA, 401(k) or similar retirement plan. If you did, don’t pull back. And here’s some incentive. Fidelity Investments said workers’ commitment to invest, coupled with stock market performance, pushed average retirement account balances to record levels in the first quarter of 2021. Some folks even became 401(k) millionaires.
4. Your debt is still too high. In the past 12 months, many people have reduced their credit card debt, the Fed report said. Thirty-four percent of credit card borrowers with outstanding debt owed less debt in 2020 than a year earlier, compared with 26 percent who had more debt.
Think about it. With stay-at-home orders, you finally had to admit to yourself that you did have money in your budget to make a dent in your debt. Don’t impede your progress by ditching your aggressive debt reduction.
5. There will still be unexpected expenses. A lot of people are $400 away from a financial setback, according to the Fed.
If you had $400 or more in emergency expenses, how would you cover it?
When asked this question, many people said they would have the cash. But others would need to cover it using a credit card or by borrowing the funds from a friend or family member. This isn’t ideal, but at least they could come up with the money.
However, 12 percent of all adults said they would be unable to pay the expense by any means, the Fed said.
There are those who won’t be going on a spending spree. They were struggling even before the pandemic and still are. But this past year exposed spendthrifts who had the means to do better with their finances. If that’s you, don’t stop your pandemic penny-pinching just because the world is opening up.
Andrew Van Dam contributed to this column.