Whenever I tell someone that I work from home full-time, their immediate response is usually a variation of “You’re so lucky!” or “That’s my dream!” I never thought I’d work from home full time, so when I accepted a job that stipulated that I’d be a remote worker, it took some adjusting.
Working from home, like working from an office, has its pros and cons. I don’t have a commute, which is lovely on rainy days, but on the flip side, I have no reason to get dressed. I don’t have to deal with office politics, but I am by myself all day and never meet anyone new. Additionally, I assumed working from home would bring an added benefit of decreasing my daily expenses. I’m not entirely sure why I believed this, but I guess I assumed that since I wouldn’t have to commute to an office, or buy fancy work clothes, that my overall expenses would decrease. While reevaluating my savings goals for the next year, I analyzed my budgets for the past three years and compared how my daily expenses had changed since I stopped working in an office. In some ways, my results matched my expectations. Others, however, did not. Here are six ways my spending changed when I started working from home full time.
My Working-From-Home Expenses That Decreased
As I settled into my new daily routine, I noticed that I rarely put on a full face of makeup. What for? I thought. No one could see me, and I didn’t need to impress anyone. I was happy with the way my skin looked and would rather have the extra five minutes of sleep. I noticed that my powders and bronzers lasted longer, and the length of time between my trips to Sephora increased. On a practical level, I knew I was consuming less makeup, so this wasn’t surprising to see that overall, my makeup expenses dropped about 60% from when I was working in an office. Today, I stock up on a couple of essentials regularly and buy everything else on an as-needed basis.
Similarly to my makeup discovery, I don’t spend as much money on clothes anymore. Again, no one can see me during the workday, so I wear whatever I want. When I start early in the morning for clients in Europe, I sometimes don’t get dressed at all. (That’s a separate working-from-home problem all unto itself.) Working from home combined with a new Marie Kondo-esque outlook on life means that I’m consuming less fast fashion, and buying fewer articles of clothing. I don’t have to go into an office ever, and I only physically see clients 3-4 times a year, during which I can wear the suits and dresses I already own. Much like with makeup, I only replace what I need. Interestingly, my spending on clothing didn’t decrease as dramatically as my spending on makeup did. Since I now buy more expensive clothing that will last longer, this category didn’t decrease as much as I had anticipated.
My Expenses That Increased
Oh, food. I can’t tell you the number of articles I have read about reducing your discretionary spending by bringing lunch every day. When I started working from home, I first thought my grocery budget would decrease. Logically, this would seem to make sense: I’m not in an office, I’m not tempted daily by coworkers who want to go out to eat. I don’t even drink coffee!
The reality is much different, and harsher than I would like. For at least the past six months, I have been blowing through my monthly restaurant and grocery budgets. Working from home has actually increased my food expenses, as I see eating lunch at a restaurant or grabbing a smoothie as a “reward” and a reason to leave my apartment. And both of those things are true! I do deserve to treat myself, and I do deserve to leave my apartment. I don’t want to become a hermit, and just because I work from home doesn’t mean that I have to make my own lunch all the time. However, my spending in this realm has gotten out of control. I would get lazy with meal prep, falling into a trap of, “Oh well, I’m here, I can make it at any time,” then get busy with calls, and have nothing to eat, leading me to go out and grab something. I wasted groceries I already bought and spent extra money eating out instead.
Now, I’m working to limit my eating out to twice a week (including a smoothie break) so I still have a reason to leave my apartment, but not to the extent that I have been. I’ve also toned down the recipes I make so that they are not as complex, meaning that I have no excuse not to heat up any leftovers or whip something up quick between calls.
2. Rent and Utilities
No shock here. When I started working from home, I lived with roommates. I quickly determined that working from home and roommates are not compatible, especially for me. I already have a difficult time living with other people, and working from home compounded these issues. I moved out and into a new apartment by myself, which mean that my rent doubled, and I was now responsible for my own utilities. On top of that, since I am at home an additional 40 hours per week, my utilities have increased. While this was a huge increase in expenses, by almost 150%, I was, and am, much happier living by myself. I am a software trainer, meaning that I need to have a quiet environment at all times so that I can record tutorials and conduct online trainings without being disturbed. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I still lived with roommates. Jeopardizing my job for cheaper rent isn’t worth it.
In one way, however, my utilities have decreased. When I moved in on my own, I chose the faster internet speed plan from Xfinity, so I wouldn’t have to question my internet connection. My internet runs about $75 a month, and since I am a full-time remote employee, I am eligible for home internet reimbursement. I get $50 a month from work to reimburse me for my home internet expenses, making that overall cost drop to $25 a month, a very reasonable price for internet.
Sadly, I anticipate that this category will continue to rise. Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, I could write off part of my rent and utilities and all incurred business expenses on my taxes. Now, I can no longer do that, so even though I may not be spending more money on rent or utilities, in the overall sense, I am still paying more as I cannot deduct them from my taxes. I still have to pay rent and utilities, but I’m currently looking for ways to buy all of my office supplies through my company so I don’t have to spend the money myself.
3. Health Care Expenses
I bought a cheapish Ikea desk when I started working from home, and a chair from Staples. Over time, I became more sedentary, and an old running injury in my hip flared up. I was uncomfortable as I sat, and the desk I had could not be converted into a standing desk due to its structure. I finally gave in and went to a chiropractor, who told me that I needed a standing desk, as sitting all day caused the pain in my hip. I was ultimately able to get my job to provide me with a new standing desk and chair, but it took them six months from the beginning of the process to actually delivering it to my house.
During that time, I went to the chiropractor weekly to have my hip and back adjusted to keep me from regressing. My copay was $35 a visit, and overall, seeing a chiropractor every week for six months meant that I spent $840 on my health. I am very lucky to have phenomenal health insurance, but my company’s inaction meant that I spent hundreds of dollars more than I needed to. I even met my out-of-pocket deductible. There’s no saying this same problem wouldn’t have occurred if I still worked in an office, but if I had been in an office building, I think this entire issue would have been resolved more quickly. Once I did get my desk, though, my hip started to heal, and I’ve been able to reduce my chiropractor visits.
My Expenses That Stayed The Same
This was a surprise for me. Public transportation was the one category I was sure would decrease dramatically. When I worked in an office, I tried to walk to work every day, but I still had a monthly T pass to account for inclement weather and my other transportation needs. When I switched to working from home, I thought that I could get rid of that pass without a problem. I was right, to an extent. I no longer get a monthly T pass, but I still spend about the same amount monthly on public transportation. I still need to get around Boston without a car, and the T is the easiest way to do that. I now buy unlimited weekly passes, so that if I’m traveling for work or visiting family or friends, I can decide when my “week” starts so I do not waste the value of that week’s pass. A monthly T pass is $84.50 as of this writing, and 4 weekly passes is $85, so if I buy 4 weekly passes in a month, it’s the same cost as my prior monthly pass. Ultimately, working from home had no impact on my public transportation costs.
How I’ve Adjusted My Finances
Since I started working from home full time three years ago, I have been wondering how my expenses have evolved. This is an analysis I should have done much sooner, but now I have a base to work off of going forward. In some ways, it was very easy to pinpoint how my spending had changed, like with my rent or health care costs. In others, it was more difficult and was easier to identify the overall trends, like with food and clothing. I’ve now adjusted my saving and spending goals for the future, and will hopefully return to this analysis in the years to come to see what other impacts working from home has on my budget.
Marissa Gallerani is a software trainer living in Boston. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Fiction and planning her next jaunt to Europe. She loves breakfast sandwiches and cupcakes, and wishes the rent weren’t so high.
Image via Unsplash