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Spending Money Post-Lockdown: Coping with Financial Anxiety

As the world begins to open up again, you may feel pressure to snap back to your “old self”. 

Health and wellbeing experts warn that the uncertainty and loneliness caused by the pandemic could stay with us for much longer. Our stability is often tied to money, and financial anxiety is set to be a serious concern for many of us.

Whether it’s a payday splurge on cocktails or something a little more serious, there are ways to make changes and help keep that nagging worry off your mind. 

If You're Just Feeling Guilty

Maybe you’re one of the 20% of Brits that saved more than usual over lockdown. Costs of commuting, eating out, and holidays can suddenly make way for a nest egg. 

It’s possible that you were surprised by your savings and want to continue this habit, or perhaps you used this financial freedom as something of a coping mechanism. One too many pizzas, or the clothing order for “when we can all go out again”...we’ve all been there.

First, it’s worth accepting that some costs are going to creep back, whether you like it or not. 

Secondly, you deserve a treat! We’re (still) in a pandemic, and not everything needs to be squirrelled away for “normal times”. 

That said, it’s never a bad idea to nip frivolous habits in the bud. Here are some suggestions to re-evaluate your spending habits, or ease the guilt of going out: 

Say no to FOMO

This is a difficult one: the last 18 months has taught us more than anything that time is precious, and the little joys are the ones that shape our lives. 

For many, spending money on experiences holds greater importance than it did pre-lockdown: that train fare to see a relative is suddenly worth it. That concert just because? It might not happen again.

As the calendar begins to fill, it may be hard to say no to plans. You may feel guilty for turning friends down; after all, you’ve been sitting at home for over a year. But the wave of postponed activities - birthday parties, weddings, drinks with friends - can leave both you and your bank account feeling drained.

It’s worth establishing a difference between which activities are led by temptation or pressure, and which will actually benefit you or a loved one. Will the fear of missing out disappear by bedtime? Or will you truly regret not going? 

We all have different “pots” for time, energy, budget, and wellbeing - sometimes it’s worth taking a little out of those for a genuinely special occasion. 

Get thrifty with activities

This leads us on to the next tip. Sometimes you just don’t want to say no to plans.

While most of us are desperate to get back out again, lockdown doesn’t have to be a lost era. Sure, nobody wants to hear the words “Zoom meeting” ever again, but there are other creative habits we formed this year that we can take into post-lockdown life.

The need to “do something” can have different causes and motivations. Work out what these are, and use them to your advantage: 

  • Do you need to be social? Get in your best gear and invite friends around for a themed night. Recreate your local pub; hold a “wine tasting” where everyone brings a bottle; or ditch the takeaway and decorate your own pizza. 
  • Do you want to get outside? Chances are you exhausted the park during lockdown, but switching it up can make all the difference. Search your local council website and on apps like Komoot for nearby walks that are a little less obvious - and free. 

If you’re not afraid of getting dirty and want to help your community, local Facebook groups often advertise one-off volunteering events like litter picks and conservation efforts. 

  • Do you want a new experience? The Facebook Events feature is another option for breaking expensive habits and finding lower-budget alternatives to having fun. 

You can find charity events or educational talks, as well as craft sessions, dance classes, games nights, or social or support groups for like-minded people. When these events are cheap or free, you’ll have less guilt plunging yourself into something new.

And then there’s the weird and wonderful side. Who knows - geocaching or extreme ironing might just be for you. 

  • Do you fancy a treat? That’s okay! Sometimes nothing compares to a “proper” trip out. 

Be honest with your friends and family; chances are many of them will be in the same boat. True friends will place your presence over your budget, and you might be able to group up for shared purchases. An open discussion will help people understand why you may be spending differently and prevent you from feeling in denial or bottling things up. 

See if you can make savings on activities you don’t want to give up. Railcard has a range of passes to save money on transport. Most people know about the Young Person’s Railcard (saves ⅓ on all rail fares) but there are others you might also benefit from. 

The Two Together gives ⅓ off for two named people travelling together. The Family & Friends saves ⅓ for up to 4 adults travelling together, and an incredible 60% off for kids under 16 with them. 

Passes like National Trust and English Heritage might seem costly at first, but they’ll pay themselves back in just a couple of trips. They offer a year of unlimited visits after purchase and young people, couples, and families can get further discounts. Even the most built-up towns have surprisingly peaceful historical sites - and getting into nature is one of the best things for an anxious mind. 

As an extra plus, English Heritage membership can be purchased with Tesco Clubcard points at 3x their original value.

Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow

Small changes are the key if you find your spending habits snowballing. Online shopping is an enemy for many of us when it comes to saving money after lockdown - all those tempting deals are just right there.

This is where you need to be brutal: unfollow high-street brands on Instagram. Unsubscribe from marketing emails and notifications. Download an ad blocker. Clear the cookies that save your card details and let you buy in one click. You’ll be less inclined to spend without temptation being waved in your face all the time. 

Sometimes, the thrill of spending money is just as exciting as the purchase itself. If you’ve got something in your shopping cart and you suspect you don’t really need it, try transferring the exact cost of that item into a savings account. You’ll get a little dopamine rush from “spending”.

This can be applied to small, impulse purchases like snacks and coffees, too. At the end of the month, see how much you’ve racked up, and evaluate how often you truly missed them. 

If Things are Tough

While everyone’s been guilty of a lockdown takeaway or two, it’s important not to trivialise the financial trouble that some of us are experiencing. 

According to Statista, 11.6 million jobs were furloughed over the last 18 months. Those on low-hour contracts have been severely down on their usual salaries. 

You might also have had struggles with unemployment, self-employment, health issues, caring commitments, leave due to grief or mental health, education costs, or had benefits adjusted. 

These have been both devastating and totally unavoidable, and might contribute to financial anxiety on a more serious scale. 

Tweak the budget

This one’s a chore, but a necessary one. Get a spreadsheet and map out everything you generally spend in a month. Trawl through your bank statements - don’t just guess. Some good categories to start are:

  • Housing (rent, mortgage, council tax, insurance, utility and Internet bills);
  • Car or public transport (for a car this might include petrol, insurance, tax, or monthly payments if you have a payment plan);
  • Groceries;
  • Childcare, family costs, or education;
  • Phone contract;
  • Subscriptions (Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, etc);
  • Credit card or “pay later” payments, if applicable;
  • Luxuries (trips, shopping, food and drink out).

Seeing the numbers can be tough, but you’ll have a better idea of how strict and how kind you can be in the non-essential areas. Maybe the £10 for TV subscriptions could go elsewhere; maybe you’re spending more on transport as we get moving again. 

Prioritise your payments. If you have multiple debts, work out where you’re accumulating the most interest and focus on paying that back first. 

Get money back

Some companies are offering rebates on everyday costs, such as car insurance while people commute less. You might find that you’re eligible for some money back if you’ve lost money on transport passes due to limited travel. 

Accessing your online account on these sites or calling their contact line is usually the best way to go about this, as they’re unlikely to chase you about it. 

You may also be able to claim back tax if you’ve been forced to work from home as a result of restrictions - even if only for one day. 

Make sure to be aware of scams, though. Sadly, this is prime time for scammers to take advantage. Citizens Advice has further information on the most common hoaxes that have popped up over the last year, and how to spot them. 

Be kind

Sometimes there just isn’t a quick solution to your worries. The fallout of a situation like this is one that none of us have ever experienced, so, inevitably, you won’t have total control over post-lockdown life to begin with. 

This is where guilt creeps in. Increased working hours to make up for debt might leave you short for time with friends or partners. A seemingly endless job search might make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Emerging from a global pandemic to see your friends appear fitter, richer, and more fulfilled than before...that’s great, but it might not be you.

It’s vital to remember that your worth doesn’t lie in your ability to work or afford fancy things. You wouldn’t berate a friend for having money worries, so try not to do the same to yourself. 

You are the priority

Try to allocate whatever amount of time you can to focus solely on yourself. Spend quality time with yourself the way you would with a friend - allow yourself your full attention in that time, even if it’s only for ten minutes. 

Do your best to maintain your daily routine, and make sure you’re getting up, eating, and going outside enough. Treats are fine - but keep an eye on your alcohol intake and spending. These may seem trivial, but they’re common spiral behaviours even for happy and well people during difficult times. If you feel like it’s difficult to stop, speak to a trusted person or one of the sources of help below. 

If you’re struggling

Financial anxiety can have enormous effects on our daily lives. Though many of us are in the same boat, you shouldn’t feel as though you should just get on with it. Unlike generalised anxiety, it has a specific cause, which means it needs to be worked on differently.

StepChange is a charity that offers free, expert debt advice to anyone. They can be reached on their website, on their phone helpline at 0800 138 1111. 

Money Helper’s Money Navigator Tool is a personalised finance service where you can learn how to stay on top of your bills during the pandemic, and find extra support. 

If you’re having issues with an employer or money you’re entitled to, Citizens Advice can help. 

For a free, confidential talking service, Samaritans can offer resources for your mental health - or they can just be a listening ear if you prefer. They’re one of the largest suicide prevention and support charities in the UK. They also have an app where you can track your mood, develop a safety plan, and access wellbeing resources and activities to help you cope. 

Fortunately, financial anxiety can pass as your situation improves, but it should always be addressed to keep you well and on track. The resources above are free to use and available 24/7, but you can also contact your GP if you’re feeling consistently anxious or you’re finding it difficult to cope. If you’re in the UK and you’re worried about your immediate health, call NHS Direct on 111.