The lockdown's saving grace
Saved tons thanks to restrictions on movement and out-of-bounds leisure? But will you be able to change how you spend in future?
The Coronavirus-induced lockdown in Mumbai happened in stages. First, public places such as malls and theatres shut down. Next were restaurants. Then, online deliveries were stalled. And while the local markets remained open, all you could buy were essential items. And, when food delivery did restart, to most it became an avoidable expense because, in a bid to keep health intact, it was best to minimise contact with others and ensure your body got nutritious, freshly cooked food.
So, with nowhere to go, your money stayed in your pocket.
Ramanujam Iyengar, a 35-year-old freelance writer, says, "When the lockdown started, as a precautionary measure, I withdrew a large amount of money from the ATM. And, most of it is still in my drawer."
Inside their homes since March 24, and cooking for themselves, many Mumbaikars have been forced into a financial fasting of sorts. While some have spent double the amount of their monthly expenditure on essentials, for themselves or for those in need around them, unnecessary expenditure has come down drastically.
Tunali Mukherjee, 33, a writer and filmmaker, says that a reflection on her own spending habits started much before the lockdown, in February last year. "I took an oath not to buy more clothes. With three cupboards, all full, I would stress a lot on where to keep the new stuff, and feel terrible that I'd have clothes I had bought ages ago with their tags still on. The policy worked well for the most part except once in a while I'd find something online. And, while I am considering even deleting those apps—I'd mostly circle back to them when bored or stressed—the one habit I haven't been able to kick is ordering in."
Mukherjee says that while she travels a lot for work and appreciates simple home cooked meals, often when trying to figure what to have for dinner, she would just order in. "Or my mother would say this and that has been made and I'd order an accompaniment. It wasn't needed and often you'd just find it didn't taste as good, but it was a habit." Choosing not to order any food deliveries since the beginning of March, Mukherjee estimates a monthly saving of R10,000. "I don't even miss it anymore."
A lunch with friends would cost another R2,000 per meal. "That would be once a week. Now, that has stopped too and I am happy. May be now, when we go out, we'll look at hanging out at the Marine Drive promenade or in parks instead of malls and restaurants."
Mukherjee is glad that the global crisis has made the conversation move; it's now cool to be conscious on what you spend. In fact, you aren't looked down on. In fact, Juhu resident, nutritionist Sheela Tanna hopes that the lockdown will also affect how we socialise at home.
"In the West, for instance, it's considered in poor taste if you order in when calling people over. With so many of us now cooking all meals in a day, including evening snacks—I have learnt to make salted peanuts and popcorn and realise that the quality is better, hygiene is guaranteed and price is a fraction of what you pay at stores. We will hopefully cook more when friends and family come over and not rely too much on delivery apps."
Sudha Menon and Tulsi Jayakumar
She adds that another expense she'd reconsider is the domestic help. "I have been doing well without the help. It takes me just 20 minutes to wrap up the cleaning and because it's your own house, you tend to do a better job," she says, adding that now with everyone posting their pictures on social media while sweeping, mopping and washing vessels, the chores are not "looked down on." If Katrina Kaif can, so can we.
Yet, another point that Tanna and Pune-based Sudha Menon make is that much of our spending habits will also change due to the economic situation that we are likely to encounter on the other side. Menon, for whom the lockdown has brought it with a relook at the need to have several shoes when a couple of pairs will do, or the number of sarees she has amassed, says the current job situation has left people insecure. The author, who found several of her speaking assignments cancelled says she is aware life and workplaces are going to be different post covid. "Corporates will cut down on discretionary spending and freelancers offering softskills and talent enhancement services will find this a challenging time. I will be spending a lot more of my money on picking up more skills."
She adds, "The pandemic has made me more aware of the unequal society we live in and so I feel compelled to help the needy as much as possible."
If and when things get back to normal, will our consumption patterns go back to square one?
Gaurav Mashruwala, financial planner and author of Yogic Wealth, says that while it is possible to change how you spend your money and the lockdown may have forced us to become aware of these choices, it will only work for those who consciously want to make the change. "It takes seven days to start understanding the benefits of a new habit, 21 days to get into the habit and three months to make that habit into a routine. When you pushed something for three months straight, you can claim to have embraced it. And yet, if you don't want to change how you spend your money, if the lockdown is merely forcing you, then you will go back to the old routine," he adds.
But normal is a bit far away.
Dr Tulsi Jayakumar, professor, economics and chairperson, family managed business at SPJIMR, says that if we believe that the youth spends the most, "some of them may not even have jobs." She adds that placements may pose a real challenge for business schools in the coming year. Those who fall in the spending bracket are largely in their 40s. "They are in the empty nest stage and have finished with their responsibilities and are now spending money on discretionary spends. Consumer confidence is at its lowest in India and across the globe. Business confidence is low. There's no merit to the argument that people are waiting for the lockdown to end and then they will shop with a vengeance."
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