Returning to the Office? Consider Your Extra Expenses

Businesswoman Driving With Ice Coffee
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Now that vaccines are widely available and companies are calling their employees back to the office, people need to start preparing for the return—and that should include reviewing and revising their personal expense budgets.

Key Takeaways

  • Now that vaccines are widely available, more companies are asking employees to return to in-person work.
  • Along with getting reacquainted with social norms like whether to shake someone’s hand, it’s a good idea for returning employees to review their personal spending plans.
  • Expenses for transportation, lunch, coffee, and child care that may have been sidelined while people were home will need to be accounted for again. 


After a year and a half of working from home, many people’s daily habits—spending among them—have changed dramatically. Resuming a normal five-day workweek will entail many costs that people may have forgotten. And with inflation sharply higher than it was when offices closed last year, many things will be more expensive than people remember.

Extra expenses can be temporary outlays or longer-term, ongoing costs. Examples of things that could put a brief spike in your expenses include new clothes—studies have shown that many people put on some extra pounds while staying at home—or new makeup, fragrance, and deodorant that may give you more confidence as you start seeing people routinely again. 

This short-term spending is easy enough to absorb and can ease your re-entry to in-person work, but financial advisors warn that bigger ongoing costs could derail your budget if you’re not prepared.

Commuting

These ongoing expenses include daily commuting costs, which many people stopped worrying about while working from home. These will return—and possibly with a vengeance. Many insurance companies gave motorists a break during the pandemic because they weren’t driving as much, but those discounts and rebates will go away as people return to the roads.

Gasoline prices have also risen sharply over the past year—reaching a seven-year high—and AAA forecasts they will continue rising. To mitigate the higher costs, people might consider joining loyalty or cash-back programs, using apps to find cheaper gas in the area, or checking whether your company offers a commuter benefit. Some companies may offer use of tax-free dollars to buy public transportation fares or parking perks. 

And, don’t forget to include the cost of auto maintenance. With more consistent driving coming back, things like regular oil changes, filter replacements, and even car washes will add up.

Food

Food costs are another daily expense people working at home did not have to think much about. But soon they may be buying coffee on the way to work, and then lunch a little later. The cost of eating out is about five times as much as preparing your own meal, while coffee alone can cost you hundreds of extra dollars per year, depending on how often you indulge.

In the 12 months ended in June, food prices away from home rose 4.2%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. But if people set aside time in the morning to make lunches and prepare coffee to go, they can prevent some of the food-price sticker shock.

Child Care and Tuition

The largest expense parents likely will have to consider is dependent care and education. If your child is young, it may be worth your time to check your company’s child-care benefits. 

“A lot of larger companies are now offering dependent care or assistance care programs to employees,” Kevin Clark, financial advisor at Ameriprise, said. “Look into their savings programs to mitigate those costs. Day care is the biggest expense for parents of kids that age.”

For older children, an education change can also make a difference. Some families may have decided to explore a religious, private, or charter school, Clark said. “The cost of some of those can be fairly high and ongoing. That would be a big reason to have to do a full reset, because it’s such a large ongoing additional cost that would have to be prioritized.”

To help buffer all these back-to-work costs, people might want to consider seeking a fully remote or hybrid work option from their company. “We’re seeing a lot of companies are allowing fully remote or hybrid options,” Clark said. “This could help mitigate costs—maybe send your kid three days to day care instead of five, for example.”

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Medora at medoralee@thebalance.com