Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

“He was suffering,” she said. “But he wasn’t ready to die.”

Ms. Smith visited him every other day, sometimes taking him steak sandwiches, pizza and other favorite foods. And she often ate dinners and snacks provided by the nursing home — which didn’t cost her anything. She now prepares all her meals at home, spending roughly $60 per week on groceries, including the fish cakes she practically lives on. That’s about twice what she had been spending when she shared meals with Bruce.

She said she didn’t realize how much of her life revolved around those visits and the friends she made inside the nursing home, something she continues to work through with the help of several bereavement groups. “All of a sudden, I didn’t have it,” she said.

During the summer, she kept busy with gardening, growing her own vegetables in raised beds, including peppers, squash, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. That helped improve her bottom line: “I saved so much money on produce,” she said. “I hardly went to the grocery store.”

In a normal year, Ms. Smith would have spent about $2,000 traveling to Denver to attend mineral shows and to buy supplies for her jewelry business, while also taking a few vacation days to unwind. But the pandemic has forced Ms. Smith, who planned to work and save until she was at least 70, into semiretirement.

She stayed afloat for some time on enhanced unemployment benefits, but the extra federal benefit expired in the summer and her state benefits ran out in mid-December. The checks started arriving again only in early February, when the year-end stimulus bill kicked in for her. Ms. Smith began collecting Social Security a few months before she would have had full benefits, which reduced her payments by $16 per month, and started dipping into her retirement savings.

“This is not what I planned,” she said. “I want to work.”

Ms. Smith’s home is paid off, but her annual property taxes of $5,000 — due in part at the end of May and August — are a looming expense. Her car, an 11-year-old Chevy Aveo, is still going strong, even if she just paid $1,500 to replace the clutch. Frugal by nature, she isn’t a big shopper. But she does get a thrill when she finds a nearly new item — be it a beautiful sweater or unworn leggings — at the flea market. One of the few services she treats herself to is hiring a landscaper to cut her grass in warm weather.

But she yearns for her life as it was. When the pandemic is over, Ms. Smith said, she will return to the dance classes she took at nearby Lehigh University, and she would like to go back to teaching yoga and selling jewelry. She is itching to travel again — as she did before her husband’s health declined — and hopes to visit Alaska.


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