Save Like You’re In Lockdown

save like you're in lockdownHow are you doing with the lockdown? It’s been 6 weeks for us and I’m starting to unravel a bit. We’re in a good position financially and mentally, but I miss normalcy. I want to go outside without having to worry about getting sick. I miss talking to people without a mask on. This is a strange time to live through. Fortunately, we are weathering this pandemic pretty well financially. My online income and side income are way down, but Mrs. RB40 has a solid job and our passive income is still good. Our spending is down too. I think that’s the silver lining in this lockdown. Many households are running on a bare-bone budget until things are back to normal. This gives you a chance to see how much slack (fat?) you have in your regular monthly spending. Also, economic uncertainties will give many workers the incentive to pursue financial freedom and early retirement. Life is so much better when you don’t have to depend on an employer for financial security. Financial independence isn’t that difficult to achieve if you put your mind to it. Once this is all over, continue to save like you’re in lockdown and you’ll be there before you know it.

Lockdown spending

The first step toward gaining control of your finance is to track your spending. That way you know where the money went. Once you do, it’s easier to trim the fat. We can take a look at our past monthly spending and compare it to our lockdown spending. For many households, their spending is way down because most businesses are closed. This is about as bare-bone as you can get.

For us, our spending didn’t change too much. We already live modestly before this so there isn’t a lot of room for improvement. Let’s go through them. This is the advantage of tracking our expenses. We can go over the record whenever we need to.


This one is fixed-cost for most families. It includes the mortgage, property tax, insurance, and repair/maintenance.


I’m not driving much at all so we don’t need to buy gasoline. It’s just the car insurance while we’re in lockdown.


We’re spending about 10% more on food. Everyone is eating more while we’re in lockdown.


This is for eating out and going to events. We usually eat out once/week, but we cut way back. Mrs. RB40 has an immunization issue so we need to minimize any contact.


Various kid stuff like the soccer club, clothes, birthday. All these are on hold for now.


This is the deduction for doctor and dentist visits. These are on hold too.


Clothing, minor home repair, and that kind of thing.


This is the big difference. We usually travel abroad once per year, at least. We can’t go anywhere now. Normally, this category costs about $5,000 to $10,000 per year.



Permanent change in spending habit?

It looks like we can save about $1,000 extra per month during the lockdown. I assume most families would have a similar experience. Of course, lockdown is unpleasant, but it’s the perfect time to go over your spending. You can see what really brings you joy and what doesn’t. What are the first few things you will do when the lockdown is over? Those are the things that are really meaningful to you.

For me, I want to go see my parents in Thailand. This is time-sensitive because my mom has dementia. She’s getting worse and I can’t wait too long. Stuff like clothes, home repair, and eating out isn’t a high priority for me. I could do without those things.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the extra savings will continue for us. Once things are back to normal, we’ll go back to traveling and buying clothes and stuff again. Our spending was at a good level already. All these expenses are just deferred until later.

What about you? Are there things you can cut out of your spending without impacting your happiness too much? What is the first thing you’ll spend money on when the lockdown is over?

*Sign up for a free account at Personal Capital to easily track your expenses and net worth. They also have a nice Retirement Planner and Investment Checkup app. It’s a great site for DIY investors.

Image credit: Pablo Padilla

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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40 thoughts on “Save Like You’re In Lockdown”

  1. I used to wonder if there was anything I could cut before the pandemic to save extra. Not out of need, but more for desire to buy a car with cash and make a down payment for a house. However, with the restaurants, theaters, and travel closed I became enlightened. I realized that before the pandemic I was spending next to nothing on any of those, my spending did not change much.

  2. My credit card statements have dropped drastically since we’re all quarantined. Single person who usually spends about $2k on everything and it’s dropped all the way down to $500. I usually spend most my money on eating out and drinking at bars. Really miss going out but oh well, we can’t!

  3. Joe,
    another great post. I think this pandemic is a wake up call for everyone. We were getting so comfortable with rising stock market and feel good situation. Hopefully we all will learn from this hard times and eventually will make us better investor or saver!

  4. These times have been interesting and I believe even in uncertain times there are still opportunities. Savings like your own lockdown is a good way of putting. Those who have saved 6 months of cash reserves or even years feel better then those that didnt or may be living paycheck to paycheck. The good news is that people who may be worried financial can use these times to grow as a person as I have done so in the past. A few helpful times are to create a financial plan right where you are with what you have and make it a habit of saving. One technique is to save 1% of income and increase it by 1% each month up until your savings rate goal is met. So if people decided to do this with a 12% savings rate in mind in a year starting now then in 12 months their savings rate would be 12%.

  5. Joe, I have been reading your blogs, off and on, for years … since shortly after Baby RB40 was born. Many great articles .. and because I had planned to be FIRE for about 8 years before I actually retired 2 years ago when I turned 55, I always encouraged my colleagues to visit your blog, as well.
    “Life is so much better when you don’t have to depend on an employer for financial security,” as you said it above. Don’t get me wrong; I left my employer in good terms. In fact, the first 12 months after retirement, the company asked me to go back to train new staffs .. I worked about 3 months all together in 12 months: 3 weeks here, 3 weeks there, basically when I could find time to go back to train. Retirement is really priceless.
    Covid-19 crisis has somewhat affected my quality of life: no vacation, eat out less. But, we don’t have full lockdown in Vancouver, Canada, and I am still able to go out for long walk, keeping social distancing in mind. I can still practise yoga either at home or at a quiet corner of the beach/park. Like most people, my monthly expense is way down …
    But, I do hope a vaccine will become available soon — some promising news from Gilead today — in order to save more lives.
    Cheers to all readers .. stay calm, stay strong, stay healthy.

  6. Our spending is down. I don’t keep track of everything, but the bills are down. I think the big difference is avoiding restaurants. We still support them, but we can be more mindful about it instead of using it like entertainment.

    Are you able to do virtual chats with your mother? I’m sure it’s not the same, but hopefully that could be something.

  7. I’m tired of lock down too. I would just like to go out and grocery shop without worrying about getting sick or getting my family sick too. I also want to travel before I go back to work.

    I haven’t calculated how much we are spending for groceries, but it’s more. I am snacking so much, haha!

  8. Hey RB40.

    I’ve been spending a bit less over this period (mainly for nights out with friends or the movies), but there hasn’t been a huge change. I work in a hospital, so my daily routine as far as work and daily life has pretty much stayed unchanged—aside from needing to wait in line at grocery stores/Walmart.
    Like you, I’m expecting a bit of an uptick in spending again once it’s possible to take advantage of this patio weather. I don’t expect there will be a real, lasting change in consumer behaviour once this pandemic ends (or at least when the lockdowns materially loosen up), since people will be eager to get back to life as normal.
    Hopefully things work themselves out and we get back to life without masks, soon.

    Take care,

  9. I spend most of my money on (eating out, drinking and travel). After shelter-in-place is lifted, I will do more cooking (learning during the SIP) and only eat out once or twice a week. I might just eliminate drinking at the bar altogether.

    The first thing I’d do is getting a haircut.

  10. Our spending was unusually high for two months and I don’t think we’re going to be much lower in April. Our spending categories just shifted.
    We now have to buy things that we wouldn’t normally for JB (outdoor activities, online lessons, educational stuff). That comes out of the amount we would normally pay for daycare so it’s just reducing our savings. Worth it for my sanity though. PiC spends a lot of time with JB but we’re both working and we can’t also dedicate even more time to developing lesson plans. That’s the straw that would break my back I think. Better to pay a professional who is available and excellent at the job than tear our hair out every day with frustration. Especially because unlike with public school, we aren’t getting any real educational tools. Food spending is up, utilities are up, dog expenses are up, maintenance is up since PiC is trying to knock out some projects he couldn’t do before. Health spending is up.
    Travel is a floating category so we’ll be saving on that later this year I guess but right now it’s not showing up on the ledger.
    Still saving aggressively though, that’s where my strong suit is! So even with the weird spending, I’m sticking to my savings targets like glue.

  11. My spending is way down given that my biggest expenditures were going to restaurants at least daily and on traveling to places such as Honolulu, San Diego, London England, Vancouver, Toronto. My income is way down too but I am still saving money since my primary expenses are $1,000 a month for utilities and to maintain my half-duplex and $250 a month for my two cars. I feel fortunate that there is a smaller grocery store with their deli still open which I visit every day to intentionally spend money on something that is expensive and most people wouldn’t buy..

    If and when things go back to normal, I will be the first one going to restaurants (at least on a daily basis) and on flying to other cities even if I have to pay for Business Class. Hey, I am almost 71 years old and it is more important to concentrate on spending my money than saving more money. These words of wisdom apply:

    “Leaving your heirs a lot of money doesn’t guarantee tears at your funeral.”
    – Sandra Block

    “If you want them to mourn, you had best leave them nothing.”
    – Martial

    • Thanks for supporting the local businesses. We’ll try to do more next month.
      Things are looking better here and we’d probably be okay with ordering some take-outs.
      Best wishes.

  12. Yeah, it’s strange how our expenses have shrunk during the lockdown. It’s been a nice eye-opener and forces us to cook at home much more. We even started growing some of our own microgreens which has been fun and tasty.

  13. It sure sounds like we’re all ready for the “new normal”, whatever that might be.
    Our spending hasn’t changed that much – we’re already fairly frugal. Travel is the biggie as we planned on seeing Greece in the fall. That’s obviously going to wait for at least another year.

    Sorry to hear that you’re unable to visit your parents Joe, that’s got to be frustrating.

  14. I’m so with you – this is starting to get old and I’m ready for a little bit of normalcy!

    Our spending looks similar to yours but the one difference is that our traveling is to head back to the U.S. since we don’t have residency here in Panama. We still have travel costs we’ve incurred for our planned trip in June. The question will be if we’re even going to be able to make that happen due to closed borders or will it be pushed back by a few months or longer? Time will tell!

    Other than that, we live pretty leanly but we’re still saving some money here and there since we can’t go anywhere. 🙂

  15. We’ve seen a lower of expenses too. The biggest drop has been gas, eating out (we only got some cookies from a local bakery), and preschool. I guess you can count travel too. There’s definitely an increase of groceries though.

    We booked a trip to Banff/Jasper this summer, we’ll have to see if the campgrounds are open then or not. If not, we’ll get the money refunded.

  16. We started vege gardening and now revamping the landscape so that is a new expense for us. We stocked up non perishable food items for 2 months and still get groceries delivered at higher prices so the grocery bill has gone up from the highs it already was. But all kids’ school/club activities/competitions have been cancelled and some are due for refunds. Gas is the main savings for us as both cars are saving 100 miles a day together. We already paid in full for international trip this summer and some are non-refundable and the air tickets may end up being a voucher refund. But we count our blessings of staying home being healthy, with the whole family, food to eat and small but relaxing backyard to have a cup of tea at the end of the day 🙂

  17. i would really like to see my mother in law but at least we can see her on zoom video. she lives alone but somebody showed her how to use it. i took almost a month without any wine in feb/march so that saves us a boatload of money. he have a bloated travel fund right now just like yours. i don’t think we’ll spend it all this year but it will be there when we need it.

  18. Along the same lines, yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter to double down on her efforts to continue building up her emergency fund. She’s fortunate enough to still be pulling in a paycheck but several of her monthly expenses have dried up due to current circumstances. Like you outlined in your post, I encouraged her to go through her budget and redirect those expense savings into the emergency account by increasing the automatic transfers.

  19. We are spending a lot less than normal. Less gas, less discretionary spending on stuff. I think our eating out costs will stay the same as we are trying to support local businesses so maybe eating/taking out an extra time per week but not buying drinks in the restaurant is saving money.

    • Thanks for supporting the local businesses. We are really paranoid so we’re minimizing contacts for now.
      It’s starting to look better locally so we’ll try to spend more next month.

  20. We’re also spending less but I’m looking forward to a return to normalcy when the time is right. Our costs for going out, coffee shops and casual dining, travel and car fuel are all down, but I’d rather be spending on these things (well, not so much fuel) as they’re things I enjoy and are affordable within out budget. Those businesses could also do with the income. We’ve tried to do something positive given these savings and made some charitable donations this month.

  21. Our spending is way down too, travel expense average $2000 per month down to zero, eating out $600, down to zero, gym membership on hold. Kid extracurricular activities like sports, camps, down to zero. Even my car insurance went down a little as we are not driving as much.
    I do worry about inflation as feds printing money 24/7…

  22. I’m doing great but would like to see normalcy too. Like everyone my spending is down but not too much to be honest. I guess it shows how frugally I live in normal times. Amazon has closed all Merch shops so I’m not making money there and I’d love for that to come back online but besides that my business is doing good.

  23. Hi Joe! Our biggest expense reduction has to be daycare. With daycare closed, that’s a huge amount of money ($1500/month) free’d up in the budget!

    That means I have less time for blogging (because I’m watching him all day), so lower online income. Travel is another expense that’s dropped like a rock. We had a bunch of travel plans this summer, but all that is canceled now. 🙁

    So far our income hasn’t dropped a lot — mainly because our stock holdings haven’t cut dividends. It’s possible it might happen later in the recession, but I’m hopeful our income levels will remain roughly the same as last year.

    • That’s good saving with the daycare. I’m glad you don’t have to pay. Seems like a lot of people still have to pay even when the school/daycare is closed. I’m sad about travel too. Hopefully, we’ll go back to normal soon.

  24. My expenses were reduced by around 30%, so very very similar to what you guys experienced. I was already in a good place before this pandemic started so I really don’t think I will carry over much of the savings. I mean yes, I can probably live without my 1-2 a month splurge in a high end restaurant but then again, why? I love it.

    I am drinking less coffee and feel better now. So I guess I’ll be saving $20 a month after this is over 🙂

    Cheers and hope everything goes back to normal soon.

  25. I guess all the weekend eating and drinking is cut so that’s the only savings. Pretty sure once quarantine is lifted it will be back to spending like normal.

    I lead a pretty active social life so cutting these expenses on a permanent basis would significantly alter my quality of life and not be worth it 🙁

    • It sounds like you’re already at a good level before the lockdown. So going back to that would be fine.
      If going out and meeting friends makes you happy, then keep it in your budget.


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