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(NEW YORK) – For people lucky enough to have been busy during the coronavirus pandemic, the last 18 months of lockdown have brought a silver lining, a boon to their wallets.

With eating out and happy hours kept to a minimum, and with the commuting a thing of the past for people who could work remotely, the pandemic inadvertently turned into a money saver for people fortunate enough to do so.

As restaurants, shops, and beauty salons reopen and some return to the office, spending has returned.

With the economy recovering, Americans now spend an average of $ 765 more per month than they did last year, according to the MassMutual Consumer Spending & Saving Index.

Millennials and Generation Z are spending even more, spending an average of $ 1,016 more per month compared to last summer, with the majority of the money going to travel and restaurants, according to the Index.

“Now, with the opportunity to travel and go out more freely, [people are] making big plans and possibly spending more than they would normally spend to ‘make up for lost time’ as they see it, ”Farnoosh Torabi, Editor-in-Chief of CNET Personal Finance and host of the So Money podcast. “There can be a tendency to go overboard.”

On the flip side, people struggling financially during the pandemic – a large percentage of the U.S. population – may struggle to keep up with the increased spending, according to Torabi.

According to an analysis by the Consumer Federation of America, an association of nonprofit consumer organizations, published this month, just over 50% of US households have any type of savings account.

“People who have suffered financial losses during the pandemic are likely to struggle with budgeting, especially given inflation and rising costs,” she said. “The prices for everything from coffee to cars have increased in recent months. There is definitely a sticker shock. “

Here are five tips from Torabi to help you gain a financial foothold during this next stage of the pandemic.

1. Keep your emotions separate from expenses.

“It is important that you now keep track of your emotions about spending and saving,” said Torabi. “The pandemic was traumatic and because of this experience, many of our emotions will linger.”

“Making financial decisions in a highly emotional state is never wise. So take the time to reflect and reevaluate your goals and values, which may have changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic, ”she said. “Understand any lifestyle changes you might want to make, the relationship or career changes you might want, and from here start creating a new financial roadmap for yourself based on all of that is aligned. “

“There is no point in making rash financial decisions that do not meet your goals,” added Torabi.

2. Prioritize building your savings.

Torabi advises saving money, even before paying off debts.

“The pandemic has made many of us aware that life is fragile and can take very unexpected turns or financial loss,” she said. “That is in the first place.”

When it comes to prioritizing savings over debt, Torabi said, “This may sound controversial to some, but when you’re starting with $ 0 in savings, it’s important to get as much of your paycheck as you can – and do it quickly. for at least 6. to use months of your bare livelihood reserved in a savings account. “

“Of course, pay the minimum amounts for your debt every month. But add any additional income to your emergency savings first before pursuing other financial goals, ”she said. “Start small if you have to, but just start.”

Torabi also recommends automatically making your savings payments, such as automatically withdrawing from your paycheck.

“If you’re earning a lump sum for a vacation, birthday, or tax refund, put it into savings first until you save at least six months of your necessary monthly living expenses,” she said, suggesting the Digit app as well. which helps users save small amounts of money, e.g. B. here and there 5 USD.

3. Spend money on needs, not wants.

“Before the pandemic, we may have spent money on items that didn’t really satisfy us or create meaningful value, like subscription services or fancy clothes,” she said. “But we’ve learned again what matters most, such as our health care, investing in a support system in your life, and investing in experiences that create memories as opposed to shiny objects that lose their luster over time . “

4. Don’t spend to meet people on social media.

“Go at your own pace and stay true to your financial reality, not that of your friends or what you see on social media that is pressuring you to spend,” recommends Torabi. “To be honest, social media can be a costly influence. So if ads or friends’ experiences on Instagram make you want to spend money, get away from the app for a while. And take the time to be clear about your personal goals. “

“From there, take it month after month,” she said.

5. Reverse engineering your financial goals.

“Remember to create a ‘new normal’ way of life for yourself that incorporates all of the lessons and lessons learned over the past 18 months,” said Torabi. “If you really want to afford an experience, create a plan and start saving now. Reverse engineering. Those who save a little today have a much better chance of reaching their destination on time. “

Torabi said a similar approach can be taken when it comes to budgeting for food.

“If it helps, make yourself financial ‘rules’ about eating out like, ‘I pack lunch three out of five days and eat out two days a week,’” she said. “Or reserve a budget for lunch and coffee in advance so that you can plan these expenses better and not feel guilty.”

“I would never say to anyone, ‘Don’t you have a latte’,” she added. “Instead, think about what plans or compromises you can arrange to make it more convenient.”

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