We’ve made changes in all areas of our lives in the last year to deal with COVID-19, and none more so than financially. Budgets have been tweaked time and again, due to work furloughs, lay-offs, reduced income, and then, more helpfully, via pandemic-related unemployment benefits, small business loans, and stimulus checks.
Everyone has juggled so much from remote work, home schooling, kids and parents moving in, finding new ways to connect with family and friends, and just getting through another day. We talked to four families to see how they’ve been managing financially. Their open and honest answers reveal that everyone’s situation is unique – with the pandemic affecting how they live, work and play and the silver lining to be found.
“We haven’t cut back on either a bi-weekly house cleaning person or yard crew — doing our bit to support small business!”
- Karen and David
At the beginning of the pandemic, back when we all thought it would disrupt our lives for a few weeks, Karen’s 92-year-old mother Maggie came for a short visit in Atlanta on her way from Florida back to Pennsylvania. She’s still there. As Karen says, “We are fortunate, not just because Mom is in great shape, very independent, and really entertaining.” She and her husband David both have flexible jobs they can do remotely, a large house with plenty of room inside and out for work and distant socializing, and Internet access that has held up pretty well.
Between them, financial negotiations have been relational rather than transactional. “Mom has amazing health insurance, my brother takes care of all her bills/bookkeeping, and he sends lots of yummy frozen food entrees, “explains Karen. Maggie gave them her old Buick (book value $4000) as a thank you. She does her own laundry, gets her own breakfast and lunch, and they all gather in the evening for wine, the PBS NewsHour, and dinner. She is adamant about carrying her own weight, paying for herself, and reimburses them for special requests.
It's a boon that their friends have known Maggie for years and they often safely visit on the deck or at one and another’s homes. Sometimes she joins in and other times she opts to spend the evening on her own, “letting ‘the young people” have some time to themselves. The only real challenge so far? David says, “Her iPhone 11 continues to be as much of a mystery as her iPhone 5.”
“There’s a kind of perverse pleasure that I’m NOT shopping for clothes. I have enjoyed buying food gifts online, splurging on fancy New Year’s Eve hors d'oeuvres sent to our daughters in L.A., and fancy cocktail mixers for us to make old fashioneds or whiskey sours. And books -– lots of books that I can then pass on/around to friends.”
The Silver Lining:
All in all, it's been great to be able to spend this time together, despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges of the pandemic and politics. Highlights have been family Zooms and late-night political satire and Randy Rainbow.”
“The year has taken so much from so many, but it also has given many people priceless
insight and opportunity.” - Kim
Kim feels like 2020 was a crazy mix of emotions and experiences. “There was a lot of sadness, struggle, and frustration, but also a lot of goodness, togetherness, and growth all jumbled together.” During the first six months of the pandemic, Kim’s daughter came to live with her in Northern Connecticut. She was happy to “play mom and make her life a bit easier” because her own job did not demand as much. Since her daughter was still paying rent on her New York City apartment, Kim did not ask her to chip in. “She was working very hard, long hours, so she took the office.”
In terms of finances, Kim admits food became more expensive with the two of them, but they cooked many meals at home to save money, especially when first quarantined. As things started to open back up, they gradually started to order out. As for rent, “the only thing different is that I asked my landlord if I could pay month to month and she said yes.”
For entertainment, ROKU served up just about anything they wanted, which was helpful since they did watch more TV at night – catching up on different series they had heard about or wanted to see. It was a nice way to end the day,” says Kim, “just snuggling and eating a home-cooked meal.”
“I haven’t really indulged more in anything; if anything I’ve saved money because we aren’t going out to eat, no movies, no traveling. I’ve increased my time spent outdoors in nature and I have embraced a more simplistic lifestyle, realizing I don’t need much to live happily, safe and content”.
“I believe COVID-19 was a wake-up call for humanity. Being in the middle of an awful worldwide pandemic has reminded us of what we sometimes take for granted and has humbled us in the things we are grateful for. It has allowed us to re-examine our perceptions of the way life can be lived. And that I am grateful for.”
“The scenario is constantly shifting, so we make do.” – Martha
Living on the west coast in sunny San Diego means more days, and more opportunities, to live and work outside. For Martha and Tim, their year was nicely interrupted by multiple, weeks-long visits form their two Chicago-based daughters, one new fiance, and a rambunctious Australian Cattle dog, Roxy. Since all their offices closed for remote operations, they could work anywhere. One daughter’s company even gave her a stipend to purchase a desk chair and monitor stand, and sent out a monitor to use. When everyone’s in town, they can be found working at the kitchen counter, the dining room table, in a free bedroom, or outside depending on the weather.
Martha and Tim have loved having the company. “Everyone pitches in. We all do our own laundry. Well, I do it,” she says, “Tim puts it away.” With extra time at home, they’re working in the yard and gardening more. When the house cleaner’s family caught COVID, that was cut out of the budget, but she’s now back to once a month. Asking the girls for money was never a consideration, Martha says, “but they earn their keep through cooking, cleaning, shopping, and Roxy keeps us laughing!”
One upside is that they’re spending next to nothing on gas, travel or entertainment. They used to go to concerts and events regularly. And though it adds up, they haven’t minded the extra $50/month they’re spending on streaming services, or ordering takeout “to support local businesses crushed by the shutdowns.”
“Probably groceries. IT was more a matter of convenience – whatever they had that was close to what I wanted, I would buy it at any price. I did go to the gourmet store right by the house, WAY too often.”
The Silver Lining:
“Overall, many hands make light work. If everyone pitches in, they feel good about helping and the chores get done. It’s a way we all work together. And it has been nice to have more quality time with the adult kids. And so many fun memories of family cocktail hours!”
“It is uncomfortable to ask your children for money. It has an "unnatural" feel, I am the mom so should be the one to provide for my child.” - Alison
When Alison’s son graduated from college in May 2019, they thought he’d be moving in for just 6 to 12 months. By mid-March 2020, they were both working from home, with Alison in the "good office" in the dining room and her son crammed into a smaller spot. When she was let go in April, they swapped.
Alison feels she and her son should have an official money system in place, but so far she’s avoided the conversation. He does chip in for rent, but not a regular amount. For meals, Alison does 95% of the cooking. When they get takeout once a week, her son orders, picks up and pays for it. Breakfast and lunch is DIY and they like having dinner together. In general, she does the shopping and he carries the bags up the stairs.
“I only wish I had a house cleaner to cut back on!” says Alison. Keeping her budget in mind, she does the laundry and finds basic housekeeping chores have become more monotonous: “No matter what chore I am doing, I feel like I just did it yesterday.” Her son takes care of his room and office area and is available to do "special projects" upon request.
All in all, she appreciates living together with one of her grown children at a time in his life where normally she’d be lucky to get a weekly phone call. “I am certain that our future relationship will be closer because of this time together.
“I did treat myself to a weekend subscription to the actual printed version of the New York Times, which I enjoy as a non-screen time activity. It’s crazy how much I love it.”
The Silver Lining:
“Slowing down the general pace of life... not feeling always a couple of steps behind where I wish I was. Stopping to smell the roses – literally. So many walks and time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature.”
Meg Schutte is a Bank of Hope Blog contributor.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Bank of Hope.