Hidden Costs of Self-Isolating at Home

If you’re fortunate enough to still be collecting a paycheck while quarantined or sheltering in place, you might expect to build up some serious savings. While working from home, after all, you’re avoiding your usual commuting expenses, and you’re probably saving money by not going to bars, restaurants, and movies, or skipping that pricey vacation.

As spending decreases in some areas during self-isolation, however, it can increase in others. To brace yourself and your budget, keep an eye on these expenses while you’re self-isolating at home.

1. Utilities

Gone from office life to Zoom life? That means you’re at home more than usual, which could ramp up your household expenses. In fact, your utility costs might be considerably higher if you’re spending more time at home cooking, charging devices, and using lights and appliances.

To reduce your utility bills, remember to turn off lights when you leave the room, open windows during the day to let in cool air, unplug devices that you’re not using and consider turning down your water heater by a few degrees.

2. Groceries

You might find yourself spending more on groceries while you shelter in place. For some folks, an uptick in grocery spending will be offset by the money saved from not dining at restaurants. If your local store is picked over or if you pay fees for grocery delivery, however, you could wind up spending more on groceries than usual. If your grocery spending feels out of hand, be flexible and creative with your menu.

Cook the food you already have at home before returning to the store. Sites such as Eater have compiled resources for home cooks, including Pantry Cooking 101 and How to Stock a Pantry. If you’re using a delivery service, place infrequent, larger orders instead of several small orders. Or consider curbside service; many stores are allowing free pickups where they bring your groceries right to your car so you can save on delivery fees and tips.

3. Meal delivery and takeout

You might not be able to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant, but you can order takeout and delivery—and those indulgences often add up quickly. After all, it’s not just the meal you’re paying for: There’s probably a service fee, as well as the tip. If you’re on a budget, reserve takeout and delivery for special occasions or those days when you just can’t muster the motivation to cook.

4. Alcohol and other sources of comfort

If you find yourself decompressing with a nightly glass or wine, your drinking habit could do a number on your budget. And you wouldn’t be alone: Alcohol consumption has shot up nationwide, and in states where recreational marijuana is legal, dispensaries are reporting booming business.

You may not want to totally forfeit your evening glass of chardonnay, but you can make your supply last longer by sipping a mug of tea on occasion or opting for a calming yoga video or breathing exercise.

5. Subscriptions

You’ve watched all of your favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu. So now’s the time to add a Disney+ subscription, right? Not so fast. You can save some money by choosing just one streaming service, or at least don’t add a bunch of new subscriptions to the ones you already have.

To free up your budget, take inventory of your other monthly subscriptions, services, and recurring expenses to see if anything can be eliminated.

6. Online shopping

Be aware that retail therapy also could ding your budget. Although many retailers are offering deep discounts to move merchandise, even discount purchases add up, and impulse buying can be an especially huge trap.

Instead of clicking “add to cart” as a coping mechanism, try cleaning out your closet instead, and then take advantage of sites like Poshmark to sell your clothes or Mercari for your household items. Many donation centers such as Goodwill are still accepting donations, too. Just call ahead to make sure your local store or donation drop-off location will take your items.

7. New hobbies

While in quarantine, you might find yourself throwing money at a new habit or hobby to fight cabin fever. So, it’s a good idea to track your spending by examining your credit card and bank statements from the past month. Do you see anything surprising?

Are there areas where you spent extra but didn’t feel it was worth it? These could be good ways to cut back. And remember: Even if quarantine has eliminated some of your old day-to-day expenses, it’s easy to overestimate how much you’re saving.