How to reset your budget as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease

As businesses reopen and social gatherings resume, some Canadians may notice they’re spending more now than they were during the peak of the pandemic.

During the first quarter of 2021, for example, Statistics Canada said the household savings rate went up to 13.1 per cent – more than double the rate of 5.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2020.

Even Canadians’ credit card debts have been dropping, with rates hitting a six-year low in June due to reduced spending, according to the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax.

“Across the board in all age groups, we’re starting to see people pay more than they actually spend on a credit card, which is a real positive behaviour change in terms of consumers,” Rebecca Oakes, assistant vice-president of advanced analytics at Equifax, told The Canadian Press in June.

Despite these positive signs, the temptation to spend more as society reopens can derail these newly adopted saving habits.

To avoid this, finance expert David Lester shared some tips on how Canadians can keep their budgets balanced as pandemic restrictions ease.

KEEP AN EMERGENCY FUND

Lester advised Canadians to try to maintain that 13.1 per cent savings rate they achieved at the start of 2021.

“So we want to make sure that we fill up our emergency fund. You want to have six to nine months of expenses set up in there,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

Next, Lester said they should talk to their financial adviser or accountant for advice on where they should put the rest of their savings.

“It could go into your TFSA or it could go into your RSP depending on your financial situation, but we should just get used to saving 10 to 15 per cent,” he said.

“In Australia, it’s law that you have to save 10 per cent and we should just pretend we’re Australians and make sure we save that 10 to 15 per cent every single year.”

KEEP INTEREST RATES AT BAY

During the lockdowns it was easy for Canadians to avoid using their credit cards because so many stores were closed, but now that businesses and activities are reopening, Lester said people should plan for their spending.

Lester said Canadians should pre-pay or put down what they’re planning to spend for the month on their credit card in advance.

“You’re going to keep your credit rate going up, you’re going to get the points, if there's any problems with the products, you always have the customer service with the credit card, but you won't be going into debt,” he said.

“You’ll be paying it first, just like a debit card would be, and then going to zero [balance].”

KEEP A PANDEMIC BUDGET

Lester recommended that Canadians sit down with their families and come up with a list of items or activities they didn’t really miss during the lockdowns in order to come up with a new budget for these post-restrictions times.

“Maybe it was travel, maybe it was movies, maybe it was having coffee at home, or not buying expensive clothing,” he said.

“So see what you really don’t miss and go back through that budget line-by-line and see what you don't have to add back on now that things are opening up. We don’t want to go back to that bad spending that we were doing before.”

KEEP SUPPORTING LOCAL

Finally, Lester urged Canadians to continue to support local businesses that were hard-hit during the COVID-19 lockdowns, even as other larger businesses reopen.

“Make sure that you're always ordering the extra garlic bread when you are ordering a pizza or, you know, dyeing your hair or doing something else just to get more money into these small businesses and shops and salons that have been closed for almost a year now,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press