How I Saved an Extra $500 a Month During the Pandemic

by Maurie Backman | Published on Nov. 5, 2021

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An adult and three kids wearing backpacks and hiking through a sunny forest.

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It's easier to save money when there's nowhere to go.

Looking back on 2020, I can say it was a challenging year. My children's school was shuttered in March, and for the rest of the year, I had to juggle remote learning while also trying to work full-time.

It was also tough striking a balance between doing the right thing for our mental health and staying safe in the face of a frightening virus. Ultimately, my family took a pretty conservative approach to things. That meant no dining indoors and steering clear of activities that included lots of potential exposure, like taking our kids bowling or to the arcade. But those adjustments paid off, because they allowed me to increase my savings account to the tune of $500 a month.

It’s easier to save money when there's no place to go

My family is pretty outdoorsy, and so a lot of the activities we do, like hiking, are cheap or free to begin with. But we also tend to spend a fair amount of money on restaurants and entertaining our kids.

Last year, we stuck to our usual hikes and attended non-crowded outdoor events. We skipped things like jam-packed county fairs though that would've made me feel claustrophobic even before the pandemic began.

All told, not going places wound up saving my family about $500 a month. That itself was a wakeup call.

On the one hand, $500 a month isn't an unreasonable amount of money to spend when you have a bunch of kids in the mix. But what was interesting is that we were able to save $500 a month while staying busy.

On rainy weekend days when we couldn't get out and hike, we did science experiments and baking projects at home instead. When the weather was too hot to hit the trails, we had water gun fights in the backyard. It made us realize that while it's not unreasonable to spend some money on entertainment, it's also not totally necessary.

The not eating at restaurants bit was a surprise, too. See, we stopped dining indoors during the pandemic, but we didn't stop ordering delivery and getting takeout. But we realized doing that was so much less expensive than going out for sit-down meals.

When we'd go out to dinner as a family, we'd usually let our kids order drinks and dessert. When we did takeout or delivery, we had drinks on hand in our kitchen and gave our kids dessert from our freezer or pantry. Plus, we've realized that takeout and delivery are a good post-pandemic compromise for our family, because they allow us to try different foods and get a break from cooking, but at a lower price tag than sitting down to eat in a restaurant.

What we did with our savings

Although I had a pretty robust emergency fund before the pandemic, last year's events shook me up a bit. Seeing so many jobs get shed was definitely unsettling. I decided to take that $500 monthly savings and use most of it to pad my emergency fund. This year, we've had a lot of surprise home repairs, so it's a move I'm glad I made.

While 2020 wasn't exactly the most wonderful year, I do think my family made the best of the situation. And the fact that we came away with extra savings is a decent consolation prize.

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