FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

March 2020 Update (Life in COVID-19 Isolation)

I came across this chalk scribble on one of my walks with Mika

I fell behind with my February update, so my update for March is being published only a week later. BUT, it’s kind of interesting to read these updates back-to-back—it really highlights how much has changed in just one month… 

Life update

No surprise here—my life in March was all about the coronavirus, with nearly all my blog posts focused on something related to the pandemic. Here’s what happened:

Letting go of Japan

This photo taken on our 2018 trip to Japan

In early March, we made the difficult decision to cancel our long-awaited trip to Japan. At first, all I felt was relief. After weeks of flip-flopping on the decision, I just wanted to be done with it and move on. 

However, reality hit a few days later. The disappointment of cancelling the trip, along with the sudden seriousness of the coronavirus, made for a tough few days (and month). 

A few weeks have passed since then, and I’m finally feeling better. We have each other and our health, and Japan will always be there. With all that’s happened and still happening, we’re just grateful to be safe at home.

Trip cancellation madness

After deciding to cancel our trip to Japan, the next couple of weeks were filled with cancellation phone calls, emails, and online chats. Thankfully, we’ll get 100% of our money back, so it was worth the hassle. 

If you’re facing a trip cancellation, I walk through how I was able to get all our bookings refunded in How We Got 100% of Our Trip Refunded During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Our replacement trip

To console ourselves after cancelling our trip to Japan, we decided to replace it with a week-long trip to Vancouver Island. So, amidst the flurry of cancelling our Japan trip, I also spent a good chunk of time planning and booking our replacement trip. 

Since it was a local trip—only a ferry ride away—we figured it would be safe. However, a week after booking everything, our province ramped up their social/physical distancing orders. This made me rethink the safety of this trip.

For one thing, the ferry rides would be an issue. Not only would we be unable to physically distance ourselves from other passengers, but there was a chance that the ferries would stop running. 

Another issue was our ability to maintain physical distance in the hotels, restaurants, and stores we’d visit. Sure, we planned to spend a lot of time outdoors, but we’d need to be indoors once in a while. This would increase our exposure and the chances that we’d spread the virus to others.

We decided it wasn’t worth the risks—it was safer to cancel this trip as well. Ugh!

Not so lucky this time

Of course, that led to more cancellation phone calls, emails, and endless waiting on hold. Unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky with this trip, and only received refunds for half our bookings. 

I could spend time trying to get the money back through insurance, but I’ve decided to let it go. I’m just too weary after all the calls to cancel our trip to Japan! 

Instead, I’ll consider the forfeited reservations to be a donation to the travel industry. Hopefully, in some small way, it’ll help those who are hurt by the downturn.

Our new normal

I still spend a lot of time outside, thanks to Mika

So, no more travel. No more day trips. No more outings, really, of any kind. What now? I wrote a little bit about our new day-to-day routine in How We’re Physical Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

This week, we’re in transition again, with the boys starting their online schooling and M returning to work. Once we’ve settled into this new routine, I’ll write a follow-up post that goes into more detail.

Investing update

Here’s what happened with our investments in March: 

Our mortgage refinance finally completed

It was a months-long ordeal, but our mortgage/investment loan refinance was finally wrapped up in March. It took a bit of finagling to get all the linked bank accounts and transfers set up, but now it’s all done!

Investing the lump sum 

On March 3, we finally received the lump sum from our mortgage refinance. BUT due to difficulties in setting up the transfer, the money wasn’t invested until March 20. 

Fortunately, this ended up working in our favour: March 20 was the second-lowest point for the S&P 500 in Q1. It was near-perfect timing for us! (Of course, I’m not a market timer—this was pure luck, not a premeditated or planned move.)

In the end, I’m thankful that our refinancing took as long as it did. If it had completed in January or February, we would’ve invested the money near the peak. Instead, we were able to buy our shares at a discount. It’s nice to have at least one thing go well in March.

Our net worth decreased (again)

Our net worth decreased by 12% from February, which brings us back to where we were in March 2018! This is a big drop, especially considering that the lump sum from our mortgage refinance has been factored in.

Still, I continue to be unfazed by this temporary setback. Ever the optimist, I believe our economies (and investments) will come roaring back as soon as we’re all freed from our homes again. 

Our investment plan moving forward

I’ll save this for a future post, but for now, here’s our broad plan: invest into the dip as we can, while hanging onto more cash than I normally would.

Spending update

March 2020 will go down in the record books as our lowest spending month ever. Here’s why:

Negative spending

This is unlikely to ever be repeated… but I went into YNAB to tally up our spending for March, and it was a negative amount! This anomaly was a result of two things: 

  1. We spent almost nothing in March (being stuck at home is a huge money saver)!
  2. We received most of our trip cancellation refunds.

Since our trip cancellation refunds were greater than our minuscule spending for March, we ended up with negative spending for the month! Crazy and weird.

Groceries

Our first order from a local produce delivery service (formerly a restaurant produce supplier)

You’d think this would’ve gone up, but our grocery spending was far less than normal in March: $206 vs our average $550. 

That’s because we tried to avoid shopping as much as possible, and were mostly eating out of our freezer and pantry. However, I expect this trend to reverse in the coming months because:

  1. We’ll start to run out of stored food and will have to do more shopping again. 
  2. We’ve been shopping at smaller, more expensive stores.
  3. We’re starting to use some local produce delivery services, which are also pricier.

We do this to not only avoid crowds but for better selection—the bigger stores seem to run out of produce all the time. Also, shopping small and local is one way we’re trying to help our community’s small businesses stay afloat.

Gas

Our gas spending was $140 in March—about the same as usual. Even though we did very little driving, we’d topped up all three of our cars before all this physical distancing started. 

(Yes, even M’s classic Mustang. Since he’s working from home, and the weather’s getting nicer, he decided to take it out of storage last week.)

I expect our gas spending to be much lower in the months to come.

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Car insurance

Since M doesn’t need to drive to work, he swapped the insurance on his two cars. His regular Mustang now has storage insurance on it, while his classic Mustang has regular insurance. This resulted in a small refund of about $90.

Discretionary spending

This was one of our biggest areas of savings for March. With no need for new clothes, nowhere to go for entertainment, no parties, and no eating out, our spending in those categories went to zero.

Travel

We not only didn’t spend on travel in March, but we actually got money back (from cancelling our trip to Japan). Since travel is one of the biggest line items in our budget, that made a huge difference in our spending for March.

My annual spending prediction

I suspect annual spending for 2020 will be much lower—not just for us, but for most people. It’ll be interesting to look back, total everything up, and observe which areas went down the most, and which increased.

My prediction is our grocery spending and energy use will go up while our gas and discretionary spending will go way down. Travel will likely still be high since I plan to rebook our Japan trip this year. (Starting with the flights, between May and September.)

We’ll see in December if my predictions were correct!

And that’s a wrap!

How was your March? Is your spending also lower than normal? Which areas are you spending more (or less) on?

Also, is your city in full lockdown, not locked down at all, or somewhere in-between? I’d love to know how you and your family are coping—please share in the comments below. 

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    April 8, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Great recap Chrissy. Unfortunately our March spending was not negative ha ha.

    Every year we purchase half a cow from my husband’s family who are cattle farmers. We are lucky to have just received half of our portion (- quarter of a cow). That means that our freezer is full, but it was a big one time hit to the budget. I. The end it averages out and is much more cost effective and healthier.

    I’m predicting we will see a decrease in our spending in April as we settle in for the month at home. Not sure how long this work from home will last but sure do hope we can get back to some form of normalcy sooner rather than later.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 9, 2020 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Maria—I’ve always wanted to buy a portion of a cow (grass-fed, if possible) but haven’t found an easy or reasonably-priced way to do it.

      I envy those who live in areas where it’s accessible and affordable. It’s great timing that you were able to do that recently. Now you’ve got plenty of meat to keep you going!

      We also hope for a return to normalcy soon. While we’re not seriously impacted, I worry so much for those who are.

      Thankfully, it looks like our two provinces are doing a good job flattening that curve. Let’s keep up the distancing and SQUASH it!

  • Reply
    Tara
    April 8, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    It’s hard to believe how much things have changed, right? How is home schooling working in BC (curious, since I work for the ed department in NB)?

    We’ve been using a local produce delivery service for the last several weeks and I’ve been pretty pleased with it. The selection has been good and maybe it’s because groceries (especially produce) can be pricey on the east coast, but I don’t find it has made a big difference with our budget. Plus, like you said, it feels good to try to help a smaller business right now!

    As far as what’s going on where I am…like I mentioned, I’m in New Brunswick and I would say we’re fairly locked down. The message has very much been stay home, go out for essentials/doctors appointments/to get a bit of exercise if you can maintain physical distancing. Schools, playgrounds, parks, etc are all shut down and they’ve started fining people who aren’t following the rules. It’s not always enjoyable but it is for the best so…that’s where we’re at. On the spending side, I expect we’ll continue to be on the lower side of normal. We don’t have a lot of storage space in our apartment, so we have been stocking up a little on each grocery order, but I think that balances out with less gas spending. Time will tell, I guess.

    (Also hello! I am a long time lurker who decided it’s really about time I stop that and actually uh, leave a comment!)

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 9, 2020 at 7:33 pm

      Hello Tara—I’m so honored that you’re a lurker on my blog! Welcome!

      I’ve seen Our Bill Pickle mentioned many times in the personal finance blogosphere, and have read a number of your articles myself. (I guess I’m a lurker on your blog as well, ha ha.)

      We are also fairly locked down here in Vancouver. All the same kinds of restrictions. They’re tough, but definitely necessary.

      So far, I’ve only heard of rule breakers being warned, and not actually fined. 90% of people are compliant though, so maybe it’s not necessary at this point?

      As for the schooling situation, there seems to be no consistency between districts, schools, or even teachers. We’re so lucky that my Grade 6 son’s teacher is very tech-savvy and incredibly organized. She uses Zoom for morning meetings, apps, a blog, and Edmodo to keep the kids engaged and working. It’s been fantastic.

      My Grade 9 son is having a much patchier online school experience. With eight teachers to contend with (and some teachers having no idea how to manage the technical side of things) he’s only received assignments from three so far. I’m hoping the rest will have it figured out by next week. We’ll see…

      Thanks for coming by to comment! I’m glad you decided to introduce yourself. 🙂

      • Tara
        April 11, 2020 at 10:46 am

        Lurkers unite haha! One of the biggest things I learned about myself as an adult is that I am actually way more of an introvert than I ever thought. The result: I am often the person who hides in the background, silently reading along. Been working on changing that, though — it feels particularly appropriate right now with the whole language shift from social to physical distancing 🙂

        I’ll be interested to see how things went here this weekend. In the lead up to the extra long weekend, there were a couple ATV rallies planned (ugh) but I think those were cancelled after the premier came out and was like “that would be a mistake.” Of course, I think it helped that it SNOWED on Thursday night. And not just a dusting. We’re talking 25 cm. Sigh.

        I don’t envy anyone involved in trying to figure out how to deliver education right now. My involvement has been on the communications side in our province (the external comms/media relations side) and even that has been challenging. It’s essentially trying to move an entire system into a new model with no lead time. It sounds like things are pretty different in BC compared to here, though. We have some stuff online and teachers are doing calls but that’s really it. There has been a lot of awareness of the fact that we have a large segment of the population here living in rural areas with no or less-than-ideal internet connection, which makes it challenging to deliver education. The set up is essentially everyone will move to the next grade level, Grade 12 students will graduate if they were in position to do so at the start of the semester and we’re going to have to sort out the gaps when we get back to a normal set of circumstances. It’s not a perfect system but I don’t think anyone has one right now. Like I said, I don’t envy them at all!

      • Chrissy
        April 12, 2020 at 1:11 pm

        Hi Tara—it looks like most Vancouver residents are taking social distancing seriously, thank goodness. However, the sunny long weekend has brought out the crowds in some areas. So frustrating. We need some of your New Brunswick snow to keep people indoors!

        My sister works in a school where some students don’t have internet or devices to access online schooling. It’s definitely a challenge to navigate situations like this, where it’s difficult to equitably deliver education to all students.

        What your schools are doing sounds the same as what I’ve read from teachers around the world. We’ll all just have to do our best to get to the end of the year, then make up for it whenever we start school again. Not ideal, but that’s all we can do. 🙁

      • Tara
        April 13, 2020 at 7:57 am

        That was honestly the biggest concern for folks here — that a nice, long weekend would bring people outside. Most of our snow has melted now (THANKFULLY) and we’ve got rain in the forecast now. Good for the whole STAY HOME thing but maybe not so ideal for the whole flooding situation. Could be an interesting week here…

        The nice thing about the situation with homeschooling/online learning is that I think a lot of people get it. Like, folks are frustrated for sure — especially if you’re trying to work from home and suddenly also the person responsible for making sure your kid does their school work — but I’d say by and large, most people understand this is not business as usual and people are doing the best they can. There’s part of me that wants to say eventually, things will settle as we get used to this new normal but…I’m not sure this is a normal I want to get used to for any period of time, you know?

      • Chrissy
        April 17, 2020 at 4:40 pm

        Hi Tara—I hope you’ve been having a good week. The sun continues to shine here in Vancouver, and it looks like we’re managing to bend that curve and keep it flat! We still need to be vigilant, but it’s great news—even though some still disregard the rules.

        You’re so right about the amount of patience and understanding everyone has for online learning. We know that everyone’s trying to do their best and it’s not what any of us wants. You’re also right that it’s not a normal that we want to get used to! This isn’t an ideal way to teach or learn, but we’re grateful that it’s at least an option.

        I hope the weather improves in NB, and that you manage to continue on your nice, flat trajectory out there! (Or even better, plank that curve and make it go to zero.)

  • Reply
    Tawcan
    April 8, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Our spending in March wasn’t quite in the negative like you did but we did see a drop in spending. April spending will be interesting. So far we’ve already spent quite a bit on food because we ran out a bunch of stuff like oil, flour, nuts, etc.

    It was definitely a good call that you didn’t do the local trip. 🙂

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 9, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      Hey Bob—we just happened to be fully stocked up when all this craziness started. That’s not always the case at our house!

      I hope by the time we need to replenish our staples that stores will have caught up to demand.

      Re: the local trip (and the Japan trip) it was hard to make the call. My husband was very disappointed each time, and I felt like the bearer of bad news! But it was absolutely the right choice.

  • Reply
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
    April 9, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    Feb/March was WAY more expensive. Partly that was our property insurance bill and life insurance coming due. Partly it was COVID related. I’m guesstimating we spent $2000 more than usual but I didn’t bother to break it out into categories, I know we were spending more on food, stocking up on medications for the dogs, and picking up emergency supply type things so it added up really fast. I’m hoping April will be less painful but some of the March bills will be paid this month of course.

    I’m super tired but I’m hoping that we all stay employed and don’t take an income hit during this time. I have bad memories of being unemployed during the last recession and I am NOT over those scars! (will I ever be? Hah)

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 9, 2020 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Revanche—I’ve been following your updates and read about the high expenses for your house and dogs.

      It sounds like the stocking up you did was a smart choice and will make life easier in the weeks and months to come. It’s tough to see those increased spending numbers all at once, but it just means you’ll have some lighter months ahead!

      You are an inspiration to me. No matter how tired you are, you still manage to support your loved ones and others in need… all while being a wonderful partner and mom.

      I hope all of you stay healthy and safe. (And nice work flattening that curve in California—keep it up!)

  • Reply
    Kris
    April 9, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Great recap Chrissy! For groceries, we did it online to prevent the crowds but discovered the neighborhood grocery stores aren’t that bad with the crowds so we’ll be going there for now. Who would have thought that we have to stress over how to get groceries.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 9, 2020 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Kris—you’re lucky that online shopping worked out for you. Here in Vancouver, it’s pretty tough to get a timeslot, and then half of your order isn’t filled anyway since so many things are sold out!

  • Reply
    Ana
    April 10, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Love reading your updates! What a difference between February and March. Talking about trips and eating out has abruptly turned to staying safe and what’s available in the grocery store’s paper aisle. It’s unreal.

    Things are fairly calm where I live as far as grocery shopping or ordering online. Many restaurants seem to be doing okay with take-out available and delivery. There are a few shops that I don’t think will make it, though. We’re doing our best to help local businesses but also trying to avoid going out?! Challenging task.

    I agree we’ll probably be spending less for a while. Hope we can start talking about vacations again soon. Stay well.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 12, 2020 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Ana—it’s definitely hard to find the balance between supporting small businesses but not going out too much.

      Takeout is a tough one for us. We want to help our local restaurants by ordering food, but we’re nervous about contamination on the containers. I guess the risk is low, so maybe we shouldn’t worry so much.

      Glad to hear things are good where you are.

  • Reply
    LiveHardxLoveHard
    April 11, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    It still feels like some horrible dream, but I suppose we’re becoming accustomed to it. I’m so glad you were able to get refunded for your Japan trip. I know it’s a letdown, but now you get to look forward to it again!

    We’ve also been loving watching our bank account grow. The only thing we’re spending more on right now is one additional night per week of eating out, and, like you, shopping at smaller more expensive grocers every now and then. Adam’s been investing in chunks every time there’s a big dip in the markets, and we’ll probably continue monitoring for any more substantial falls. I know there’s a risk we could end up in a great recession, but we’re also optimistic like you and believe that we’re just buying at a discount. That was certainly good timing with your mortgage payout! I also got my annual bonus right when the market first dropped, so was happy that my automatic contributions to the 401k went in at a good time.

    Keep hanging in there. At least hopefully quarantine means you have more time to write, and we have more time to read your posts!

    Elise

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 12, 2020 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Elise—it does still feel like a horrible dream sometimes. I especially feel it when I wake up in the morning and remember that we’re still dealing with this virus. Sigh. But yes, we are becoming more accustomed to it.

      I like Adam’s approach, to invest in chunks each time there’s a drop. It’s been nice to hear more people have been reacting this way, rather than the opposite, of panicking and selling. Let’s hope most of us manage to keep calm and stay the course!

      Thanks for reading and coming by to comment. I hope you and Adam are well.

  • Reply
    Joe
    April 20, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Sorry to hear about your trips. We are staying home mostly too. I’d like to drive out to the beach when the weather is nicer. Most public beach accesses are closed so it’ll be tough to get to the beach. I guess we’ll see what happens next.

    Your grocery spending went down. That’s interesting. We are eating a lot more now that we’re stuck at home. I also purchase more stuff when I go shopping due to hoarding tendency and trying to go shopping less often. Anyway, I think our grocery spending is up about 15%.
    How are you doing with homeschooling? Your kids are older so they probably listen better. We are having a tough time so far.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 20, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Hi Joe—it’s tough to be blocked from the beaches when the weather’s so nice. 🙁 In Vancouver we can still access to our beaches, but it’s tough to physically distance so we choose to avoid them.

      I’m sure our grocery spending will go up in April. It’ll be interesting to see our monthly average for 2020. This is such an unusual year.

      Homeschooling is going okay, finally. We had a rocky start with Kid 2, and I was getting way too many emails from Kid 1’s eight teachers up until last week!

      This week is looking better. But Kid 1 has hardly any schoolwork, so we’ve assigned him some other projects. He’s working through Codecademy and helping an uncle and aunt set up a COVID-19 fundraiser.

      I do have it easier with my kids because they’re older. I read your post about homeschooling RB40 Jr, and I feel your pain! Younger kids have less patience for schoolwork.

      I hope you and he fall into a rhythm eventually. And in the end, a few of months of sub-optimal learning isn’t the end of the world. 🙂

  • Reply
    B
    April 23, 2020 at 7:29 am

    This year spending category is likely to be a good gauge in the future of what’s basic survival expenses are, that is without discretionary spending such as traveling, Starbucks and other entertainments. If we can survive this year, we can survive any other years!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 27, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Hi B—sorry for my late reply. I was having some issues with my comments after updating to a newer PHP version. Ugh, technical issues are not fun!

      I like the way you look at it, that this year will be a good gauge of basic survival expenses. That’ll definitely be true for us. We’re not spending much on anything at the moment. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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