Forget saving money on gas and takeout lunches at the office. Americans on average are spending more money working from home than they were commuting to the office before shelter-in-place rules closed most offices.
Modest savings on gas and restaurant meals are more than offset for the average employee who’s able to work remotely by higher spending on groceries and utilities, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. Nationally, people are saving about $27 a month on restaurants and takeout, $33 on gas and public transit and $34 on child care. But that hardly makes up for the extra $121 they’re spending on utilities and an extra $182 on groceries.
“I was really shocked that the average person working from home is actually spending more money,” said Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
Rossman stressed that those findings are specifically about people who are able to work from home, a benefit that is disproportionately available to white and high-income workers. About 61% of white workers in California are able to work from home compared to 53% of Black and 42% of Latinx workers, according to a Berkeley IGS poll. And an analysis by the housing website Apartment List found that about 52% of people making $100,000 or more a year could work from home compared to 22% of workers making between $25,000 and $50,000 a year.
The CreditCards.com survey also found that not everyone is spending equally while working from home. Millennials are spending on average $208 more a month, while members of Generation X — those born roughly in the 1960s and 1970s — are saving money, spending $2 less a month. Baby Boomers, who generally earn more in part because they’ve been in the workforce for longer, are saving $24 a month.
Lower-income households — already less likely to be able to work from home — also spent more than their wealthier counterparts. Households making less than $40,000 annually spent an extra $151 a month, more than twice the extra $60 households making over $80,000 annually spent while working from home.
Rossman said that could be because some of the luxuries wealthier households could regularly afford — going to the theater or taking yoga classes, for example — are not as available now, and those savings help balance out higher utilities or grocery costs.
“The lower-income households were probably spending a higher percentage of their income in necessities, so there wasn’t necessarily as much to be cut,” Rossman said. “Whereas the higher-income households, I think they had more room to save.”
The survey was conducted in May and asked 2,768 adults, including 822 who are or have worked from home during the pandemic, about their spending habits and their satisfaction with remote work. About 82% of people working from home would like to keep doing so at least twice a week, the survey found, and 35% would be happy never going back to an office. That could be in part because improvements in some workers’ quality of life make up for extra costs, something Rossman knows firsthand.
“I have been working from home since mid-March. I work in New York City normally and I live about 30 miles north of the city,” he said. “It’s probably saving me three hours a day round trip.”