En español | Some 117 million Americans — age 50 and up — are arriving in the promised land of post-pandemic spending.
It's scary. It's exciting. It's confusing. And, yes, it's different than the world they left.
Are the actions that used to be OK pre-pandemic — in terms of spending and saving — still OK? What has changed in the world of personal finance over the past 14 months, since the pandemic got its terrible grip on the nation? If you're an older American, are there specific actions you should be taking right now even as the pandemic clouds start to fade?
For some workers in their 50s and 60s who kept their jobs, saving money wasn't necessarily so difficult during the pandemic. For them, basic pleasures like traveling and eating out became no-no's — and many also received hearty financial bumps from stimulus payments — so saving was easier. For others, particularly those who lost their jobs or whose businesses or incomes took a hit, it remains a serious struggle. In either case, as the pandemic loosens its grip, it's time to rethink how to spend and save.
"The key for this group is preparing for reentry into the post-pandemic world of spending,” says Sandy Adams, partner at the Center for Financial Planning in Southfield, Michigan.
Here are 10 tips for “reentry” from five certified financial planners:
1. Have fun, but don't go crazy
People have pent-up demand to spend on things that they haven't done for a while, like eating out, attending special events and, of course, traveling. “There's going to be a desire to break out of the pen and go nuts,” says Adams. “My advice is to plan and go back in slowly — but don't go crazy.” Have a real plan to pay for entertainment expenses. In any event, Adams says, don't go into debt for them.
2. Pad away
For those folks who already were on a solid saving path and who practiced a healthy spending/saving balance, it's time to use any excess savings that you built up during the pandemic to pad your retirement savings, Adams says. For those who might have fallen behind on their savings plans during the pandemic and who might have even been overspending during the crisis, now is the moment to move any remaining stimulus payments still sitting in your checking account into your retirement savings account as a sort of “catch-up” contribution, she says.
3. Set up auto-save
Don't feel like you have the willpower to save more, even though you're spending less? Now is the perfect time to set up an automatic savings mechanism at a bank, brokerage or mutual fund company that automatically invests that amount monthly. “This is important to do before the world opens up and we adopt all our old habits,” says Nicole Gopoian Wirick, founder of Prosperity Wealth Strategies in Birmingham, Michigan.
4. Refrain from returning to bad habits
Adams says the key question everyone must ask themselves now is: “Can I go into post-COVID being more responsible with my money?” During the pandemic, many older adults limited their grocery store trips, and even when they did go to the store, they typically brought along a list and stuck to it so that they could get in and out quickly. For the most part, this eliminated almost all impulse shopping, Adams says. She suggests that consumers continue on this course after the pandemic — limiting trips to the supermarket and only purchasing things on your list when you go.
5. Cut the cable bill
Perhaps you and your family did more than your usual share of cable TV watching during the pandemic because entertainment felt safer in the house. That's about to change as more families venture outside. So, Adams asks, why continue to pay huge cable bills for channels that no one watches? She suggests dropping your $100-per-month cable TV plan and replacing it with a shared, $15-per-month streaming service like Netflix.
6. Think twice about buying a house
With interest rates near historic lows, it is enticing to jump into the housing market or to purchase a bigger home. But housing prices have jumped too high to be worthwhile, says H. Vincent Clanton, founder of Chancellor Wealth Management in Atlanta. Prices are simply too “frothy” right now to take on debt, he says.
7. Click-and-buy less
Perhaps the single worst spending habit that many consumers developed during the pandemic was clicking and buying stuff online, Wirick says. That's because folks weren't able to get to the store, so online shopping evolved into the next best thing. In many cases, however, folks are purchasing things they want — but don't actually need. “You push one button, and stuff ends up on your doorstep one day later,” she says. So Wirick advises her clients to take a “mindful” approach to all online purchases. Before you push the button, ask yourself: Do you really need it? For folks who continue to purchase things they don't need, she strongly suggests removing the shopping apps from your phone.
8. Spend on bettering yourself
During the pandemic, some folks who wanted career advancements or career changes started to spend money on education for additional training, certification or higher degrees. Now is not the time to stop spending on that, but, instead, this is actually the time to increase that spending, says Brent Bell, founder of Bell Financial Planning in South Lyon, Michigan. As the economy recovers, you'll be rewarded for it.
9. Balance fitness spending
Many folks were unable to go to the gym or the pool during the pandemic, so they purchased home gyms or even built swimming pools at their homes. If you did this, you need to remember to drop your gym or pool membership. It may take several years of cutting back to pay off major expenses like a swimming pool or home gym, says Bell.
10. Review all your pandemic habits
It can take two to eight months to build a new habit or behavior into your life, and COVID-19 resulted in new habits for all of us. Most of these habits — be they using food delivery services or signing up for subscription services — cost money. Now is the time to identify all of these behaviors and figure out which ones are purposeful and worth keeping, and which ones to scrap, says Tracy Sherwood, president of Sherwood Financial Management in Williamsville, New York.
Bruce Horovitz is a contributing writer who covers personal finance and caregiving. He previously wrote for The Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY. Horovitz regularly writes for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Investor's Business Daily, AARP Magazine, AARP Bulletin, Kaiser Health News, and PBS Next Avenue.