Can you afford to return to work?

finance personal lifestyle Jun 16, 2021
returning to the office

Last week's blog raised the topic of returning to some of the fun things that we have been missing during the covid related restrictions of the last 16 months. I challenged you to take a look at your pandemic finances, to see whether you can immediately afford to jump straight back in to your social life as the world gradually reopens.

The ability to get back to eating out, meeting friends for Friday night cocktails, heading to the football or rugby stadiums to cheer on your team, going to theatres, gyms and name but a few things, is all very exciting, and we can choose (formal restrictions permitting) when we decide to take the next step into "normality".

But, as we know, life's not all about the fun things.  Most of us need to work too, and for many of us, the last 16 months have seen our working lives turned upside down.

At the beginning of March 2020, like much of the world, I was told to tidy my desk, take a few bits and bobs home as we were going to be working from home for "probably 3 or 4 weeks".  16 months later, and I am still, alongside the majority of office workers, working from home.  The office I left behind has the feel of the Marie Celeste.

It's been a mixed bag of practical and emotional issues over this time.  Some had to juggle home schooling and childcare with their day job.  Some had to create a workspace on their kitchen table, or with a laptop perched on the arm of the sofa.  The lack of social contact with team mates, or clients, has been hard for many, and although Zoom and WebEx have allowed us to continue some element of "face to face" communication, we've realised that we don't always want to be speaking into a screen (even if it does mean we can get away with wearing our PJ trousers under the desk rather than more formal workwear!).

For some, there have been a good number of benefits.  The lack of a crowded train or being stuck in a traffic jam at 5.30 every day on the commute.  The ability to have an extra half hour in bed in the mornings, or to not worry so much about whether your work shirts are ironed and the suits dry cleaned.

Along with the social side of the global re-opening, we are starting to consider a return to the office workplace over the coming months.  For some of us this means a full time return to the office.  For others, there will be a hybrid of home and office based working.  Some of us will continue to work predominantly from home, popping into the office maybe only once or twice a month for team meetings.

We go to work to earn money, not to spend it, right?

But, much like returning to the pub, the theatre and the sports stadium, returning to work is going to involve a cost.  A cost that we need to start getting ready for now so that we don't trip ourselves up, financially, in a few weeks, or months, time.

How much does it cost for your commute?  Fuel for your car, the cost of a daily car park ticket when you arrive close to the office?  A weekly bus ticket, or a monthly season ticket for the train?  For the last year and a bit, it has cost us nothing to walk into or out of our "office".  In theory, we have saved the cost of travelling to work.  In reality, do we have that money showing as "surplus" in our bank accounts?

I don't know about you, but despite intending to take my lunch to work everyday to save costs, I would often nip to the cafe nearby, or to Tesco or Boots to pick up a Meal Deal.  While I was there, I might add a couple of other bits I didn't need, into my basket, or I might decide to buy doughnuts to take back to the office to have with our afternoon cuppa!  Since working from home, my lunch costs are a fraction of my pre-covid lunches, as I pop a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, or reheat some leftovers from the previous night's evening meal.   

Don't even get me started on the extortionate price of the crisps or chocolate from the vending machine in the staff room.  I would try and resist, but hey, you know that 3pm slump that is only fixed by the purchase of an overpriced Snickers Bar?  Yes.  That.  Or the cost of your daily Latte when you walk from the station?

It's not just travel, food and drink that we will be having to fund again.  We've spent the last 16 months working in fairly casual attire.  Many of us have fallen victim to a bit of lockdown weight gain.  Do our office clothes actually still fit us?  Do we actually need to buy a few new items of corporate wear?  I like to wear fairly high heels for work.  Of course, since working from home those shoes have stayed in the wardrobe, and my feet are either bare, wearing slippers, or flip flops most of the time.  Can I (or rather my knees, hips and back) actually COPE with wearing my skyscraper heels every day again.  Certainly in the short term, I may need to go and buy something a little more sensible for my feet!  If you are used to wearing a suit for work, you're going to have to get used to the dry cleaning bill again!

On top of all that, there are the odds and ends that we find ourselves paying when were are at work.  A fiver or tenner here and there for a colleague's birthday, leaving, or new baby collection.  Sponsor money and donations for fun runs, marathons and bake sales.  Buying cakes on your birthday for the whole team, or mince pies or hot cross buns, or ice creams depending on the season.  Friday Greggs run, anyone?  

All these are costs that you probably haven't had to cover since March last year.  That means, that you've probably now got very used to spending that money on something else.  Perhaps you've upgraded some of your supermarket shopping.  Maybe you've added in some extra TV packages or started subscribing to Audible, or the premium version of Spotify, or your online gaming costs have steadily crept up.

So, don't get caught out when we get the go ahead to return to the office.  Even if you are going to have a hybrid of home and office based working in the future, there will be an increase in costs for you.

Now is the time to recall the daily, weekly and ad-hoc costs of going to work, and to start making sure that you won't need to be putting the season ticket for the train, or the daily car park, or meal deal, on your credit card.  Ensure that you have the money allocated to the cost of going to work.  

Returning to the workplace will be long overdue for some, but it may be a little strange or anxiety provoking for others.  Don't add to the stress and anxiety by creating money stresses for yourselves.  If you were ever in the Girl Guides or the Scout Association - now is the time to "Be Prepared"!

If you want a helping hand with your return to work budgeting, 





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