Before you start some post-pandemic spending, make these money moves

Personal finance

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After a year of lockdown, you may be ready to go out and start spending.

Not so fast.

“We’ve gone through what can be described as a major discretionary spending fast,” said Jim Wang, founder of the personal finance blog Wallet Hacks. “After a year of spending relatively little, you might want to make up for lost time.”

Americans have already started spending big. Retail sales surged in March, thanks to the $1,400 stimulus checks that went out. Sales then stalled in April.

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Jamila Souffrant, creator of financial education podcast Journey To Launch, thinks some consumers will have this feeling of “YOLO-ATP”: You Only Live Once, After the Pandemic.

“For some people, I think it’s going to be like, ‘Listen, I want to spend money in a way that I enjoy now because tomorrow is not promised,'” she recently said on her podcast.

Others plan on staying the course. To that point, 32 % of U.S. adults said their financial discipline improved during the pandemic, and 95% expect those newfound habits to stick, according to a new report by Northwestern Mutual.

Before you whip out your wallet, there are some steps you should take to shore up your finances and spend smartly, according to financial experts.

Take stock

During the past 15 months, your perspective may have changed. You may realize there are things you thought you couldn’t live without that you really don’t need.

“Review your life and what brings meaning to it,” said certified financial planner Zaneilia Harris, president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group, based in the Washington metro area. “Write these things down.

“Analyze your expenses to see if there are items you can eliminate because your perspective has changed,” she added.

Budget, budget, budget

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Not only is it crucial to craft a budget, you have to make sure you stay on top of it.

Write down what money you have coming in and what you have going out. Also, think about what it is you want to start spending on, whether it is returning to regular nights out or traveling, and incorporate it into your budget.

“It is really meant to help guide you so that you can have the best of both worlds: You can live your life in the now and still be financially responsible in a way that allows you to reach your mid- to long-term goals,” Souffrant told CNBC.

If you aren’t using a budgeting app, start using one, Wang suggests.

“Many are free and will have enough features to make sure you don’t overspend,” he said.

While cutting expenses is the first thing that comes to mind when budgeting, Souffrant also suggests thinking about earning more income. Tap into skills that you have, such as tutoring or babysitting, she said.

Save for emergencies

One of the big lessons of the pandemic was the importance of having emergency savings.

Make sure you have at least six months of expenses saved before you loosen up your spending habits, Wang advised.

Reverse any Covid-related changes

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If you had to reduce your contributions to your retirement savings plan, make sure you set it back to normal, Wang advised.

The same goes for paying off debt. If you reduced the amount you typically paid towards your credit cards, go back to your pre-pandemic plan.

Also account for student loans, if you have them. Payments have been on pause during the pandemic and are set to resume on Oct 1.

Take a pause

Once you are ready to spend, do it with intention.

“Always reflect when you buy,” Harris said.

If it is online, leave it in your shopping cart for a day. If it is in a store or mall, walk away while you continue to shop. If you still want it, then consider purchasing it.

She suggests using the Marie Kondo method, which is about holding onto things that bring you joy.

“Go to your Zen place and spend money on items that bring you joy,” Harris said.

Beware of rising prices

Prices are rising thanks to recent spikes in inflation, so be sure to shop around. You can do that with a price-comparison app or you can download a browser extension, which automatically finds coupons at checkout.

For some big ticket items, like a car or a vacation, you may want to wait until prices cool off.

“If you are looking to spend, see if that category is abnormally high and compare it to your needs,” Wang said. “Being willing to wait a few months could save you quite a bit.”

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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