Returning to the office is proving expensive.
Many line items in personal budgets have been zero or close to it for the past two years. With companies calling people back to their desks over the past month, expenses for everything from dry cleaning to dog sitting have reappeared in household budgets. And with the unhappy coincidence of the biggest inflation jump in four decades, workers have to shell out even more for many goods and services than before the pandemic.
“Between my daily commute, coffee, bagel, lunch costs and pet sitting, I’m out just over $90 a day,” Michael Rose, a partner at Hach & Rose law firm in New York City, said in an interview.
The consumer price index rose 8.5% in March versus a year ago, the Labor Department said this week, the most since late in 1981. So-called “lunchflation” has garnered attention as people begin buying food during the workday again, but gas, which has doubled since November 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and other daily expenses are also providing their share of sticker shock.
‘Lunchflation’ launches as pet sitting costs rise
Eating out costs rose 6.9% in March from a year ago, the most since December 1981 and the price of prepared salads — an office staple — jumped a record 8.7%. Yet dollar per dollar, some employees say that pet care expenses eat up substantially more of their budget. Some 45% of U.S. households owned a dog, according to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association as of 2020.
“I save so much more by walking my dog myself during breaks,” said Christopher Hernandez, owner of website design firm Spider Lunch in San Antonio, Texas. “Everyone thinks that the big savings come from not commuting, but that isn’t the case.”
It costs $20 on average per dog walk, and up to $35 in New York City, according to Bark.com, a marketplace for different types of professional services. Doggie day care is often $30 to $40 a day in suburban regions, and more in urban areas, information from Rover.com, a network of pet sitters and dog walkers, showed, while a Labor Department index put prices for pets and pet products up 6.9% last month from a year earlier, the most since July 2009.
Discretionary expenses rising
There’s no rule of thumb for daily expenditures, but there are guidelines for overall budgets, according to financial adviser Dana Levit, owner of Paragon Financial Advisors in Newton, Massachusetts. A standard budget allots roughly 50% to basic expenses like groceries, mortgage and gas, 20% to savings, and 30% to discretionary costs. “People differ a lot in how they prioritize discretionary spending,” she said in an interview. Some spend on vacations, others spend on better cars, others spend on air conditioning bills. Common discretionary places to cut are underused subscriptions and gym memberships.
Bobbi Rebell, a certified financial planner with the debt payoff app Tally, said to focus on limiting costs within your control. Because expenses related to work are recurring, people can look for discounts. “Ask if there are any special discounts for new doggy day care center members, or for committing for a certain period of time,” she said.
Work from home to save on going into work?
Some workers are agitating for help — from their employers.
Two in five workers feel employers should compensate people who have to drive to work, while a quarter are opting to work remotely due to gas prices, according to a poll conducted last week by career site Monster of more than 200 workers in the U.S.
“Right as firms are trying to get people to come back to work, the cost of transportation is going up so rapidly that people can’t afford to come to work,” Giacomo Santangelo, an economist with Monster, said.