Going Back to the Office? 3 Steps to Prepare Financially

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Here are some budgeting moves you'll need to make if your remote work arrangement is ending.

Many people have spent the past 12 months working from home, and at this point, you may be used to the perks that come with it. But don't get too cozy. A growing number of companies are making plans to have workers return to the office. In a recent survey of over 350 CEOs and human resources professionals, 70% are aiming to have employees return to in-person work by the fall of this year.

If your remote work stint is on its last legs, you'll need to gear up for changes to not just your logistical routine, but your financial one as well. Here are a few moves to make to prepare.

1. Factor commuting costs into your budget

Whether you've enjoyed working from home or not, it's hard to argue with the savings involved in not having to commute. But that's going to change once you have to start paying for a train pass, parking space, or fuel for your vehicle -- so prepare now by factoring those expenses back into your monthly budget.

You can talk to your employer to see if you'll be eligible to sign up for commuter benefits for the remainder of the year. In 2021, you can elect to have up to $270 a month deducted from your income on a pre-tax basis to cover costs such as trains, buses, or vanpools to work.

2. Adjust your dependent care FSA

Your childcare needs might change now that you'll be reporting to an office again. If you expect to start spending more money on childcare, it pays to talk to your employer about raising your dependent care FSA (flexible spending account) election.

Like healthcare FSAs, dependent care FSAs let you set aside pre-tax money. But instead of using that money for medical expenses, you use it for childcare costs, like daycare centers or a summer camp.

As part of the recently signed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, the contribution limit for dependent care FSAs in 2021 has risen from $5,000 to $10,500 for single parents and married parents who are filing jointly. For married parents filing separately, the limit has increased from $2,500 to $5,250.

Normally, you need to decide the amount of your dependent care FSA contribution during your company's benefits enrollment period the year prior, and you can't alter it unless you experience a major life change, like a marriage or divorce. However, this year exceptions are allowed due to the pandemic, provided your employer adopts those changes. Employers aren't required to, but many will, so it's worth having that conversation with someone from your benefits or human resources department.

3. Look at automating your savings

Once you start working in an office again, you may be tempted to spend more money on lunches with colleagues, drinks after work, and so forth. All of that extra spending could cause you to fall behind on your savings goals. So it may be a good idea to set up an automatic transfer, where you send money from your checking account to your savings account each month off the bat. That way, you'll be more likely to stay on target rather than spend your entire paycheck without realizing it.

The fact that more companies are calling employees back to the office may be a sign that things are improving on the pandemic front. But changing your work arrangement could impact your finances, so take these steps to prepare for that while you're still doing your job from home.

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