The shift to working from home (WFH) has generally meant fewer work-related expenses. For many, the commute has shrunk to the distance between the bedroom and the office, meaning less spent on gas, subway rides or commuter rail tickets. The new WFH uniform—the robe or yoga pants—require no dry cleaning, and those who now make meals at home are likely saving on lunch.
Businesses and their employees, however, shouldn’t take the perceived fewer costs for granted—despite not having as many line items in the daily budget, unexpected home expenses can still creep up, potentially offsetting any money saved. Whether you’re a business owner who’s agreed to cover some of your employees’ at-home expenses or an employee of a company just looking to keep costs down, first understand these six common work-from-home expenses before you begin to recalibrate your budget
Start with a Spending Discipline
Before diving into the common culprits, a critical first step is to categorize your expenses so you can get a better understanding of where your money is going. If you haven’t already, start tracking your WFH spending in your monthly house or business budget. As you start to understand which new expenses you’ve incurred or which existing ones have become more costly, try to differentiate line items between “must-have” and the “nice-to-have” categories.
For example, reliable WiFi is a “must-have,” while meal delivery subscriptions are probably “nice-to-haves.” Developing a thoughtful approach to at-home spending can go a long way, and maybe even help you avoid the trap of spending more than you normally would knowing that you’re not incurring work-related costs.
You and your family members or roommates have never been home as much as you are now. While your pets might be ecstatic, your utilities—electricity, natural gas or propane, and water—are running around the clock.
As seasons change and temperatures reach extremes, these utility expenses may climb even higher. To combat the increase in utility consumption, start by setting up online accounts for each provider. This allows you to monitor usage and compare it to previous periods when you weren’t home as much.
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges, many of which technology can solve. However, that means spending more money for a fully-equipped office.
Next, consider adding smart thermostats and meters that help you become more disciplined. These devices take over your utilities and set limits on usage, helping you conserve and reduce your usage. You may also be able to adjust your work hours to non-peak utility times to take advantage of lower rates or discounts for not using electricity or gas during certain hours of the day.
If you have money to invest, think about making bigger changes that minimize utility consumption, such as low-flow toilets, smart faucets and solar panels. Many appliances and solar companies offer rebates and tax incentives that help reduce costs and speed the return on your investment.
You may be paying more than you need to for phone data plans and WiFi. You may even be struggling with a plan that once worked when you weren’t participating in video conferences and your family wasn’t binge-streaming Netflix all day.
Examine your current costs and what you get for that money. This may be a good time to shop around. Your provider’s competitors are always seeking new customers, so you might be able to get a fantastic deal for switching. Just make sure you compare the service or data plan. Additionally, look for service providers that offer employee or senior discount plans as well as family or shared data plans.
Alternatively, keep your existing plan but use some other processes to stay plugged in. For example, adding an advanced WiFi mesh system can boost connectivity, saving you from upgrading to more expensive plans. This type of connectivity technology delivers the power of multiple routers and helps provide wider WiFi coverage throughout a home, killing dead spots that often appear in larger houses.
Equipment and Supplies
Instead of relying on office equipment and hardware, you may now be subjecting your own belongings to constant use. And those pens, notepads, and Post-It notes that you bought in bulk for the family two years ago have likely disappeared.
If you are working for a company, it is acceptable to ask about reimbursement for using your own supplies. They may also provide you with an equipment allowance, allow you to purchase a laptop or additional software, or do so on your behalf.
If you work for yourself, look into bulk-purchasing supplies through a wholesale company. Search apps like OfferUp, eBay and LetGo for any special deals. Buying moderately priced equipment and furniture upgrades can also provide you with useful tax deductions.
More Tech Tools
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges, many of which technology can solve. However, that means spending more money for a fully-equipped office. That may include additional monitors, a headset, webcam and other apps and software packages. The expense of all these extra gadgets quickly adds up.
As with office equipment and supplies, you can ask your employer for financial assistance to purchase necessary tech tools. If you work for yourself, search for deals from online retailers. Shopping around tends to uncover the best pricing available.
Additionally, look for free apps and tools that suit your needs wherever possible. From time-tracking software and calendars to video conferencing and collaboration tools, there are multiple options for each task and project you now have to do remotely. Often, these tools have tiered pricing with simple, yet effective, free plans.
It seems like food costs would be one of the first expenses to drop when you switch to remote work. After all, without office lunches or takeout or drive-thru meals on the way home, shouldn’t you be spending less?
The problem is that working from home can turn into even longer hours than the office, with little time or energy to whip something up. Thanks to online apps and the plea of your favorite local eateries, it is all too easy to press that order button on your phone. Plus, there are often delivery fees, tips, and other costs tacked on. The result is your food costs equal or can even exceed that of office days.
To counter this trend, create a weekly meal schedule, recruit the family or roommates to help, and prep your meals on the weekends. Stick to a food budget that includes one or two delivery meals a week, based on what you can afford.
Mindful WFH Spending
The ongoing transition to a more WFH-focused existence has left many professionals reevaluating how to properly pay for life outside of a physical office. Staying informed about expenses leads to more thoughtful spending choices, which in turn helps you manage work-from-home costs.
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