Amid the gloom, savings rates move higher as lockdowns put a chill on spending

Since the pandemic lockdowns began, Daniel Bilton says his expenses have dropped by about $500 per month after cutting back on driving, transit and eating out at restaurants.

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Since the pandemic lockdowns began, Daniel Bilton says his expenses have dropped by about $500 per month after cutting back on driving, transit and eating out at restaurants. For the first time in his life, that unused money is piling up in his bank account and he’s considering what to do with it.
“When I look at my bank account, I notice I’m just not spending that much,” says the 24-year old from Mississauga, Ont. “The money is just kind of sitting there right now -- honestly I should look more into investing it.”

Bilton's not alone. As Canadians settle into long-term life under the pandemic, some of those who’ve managed to hold on to employment say they’ve bolstered their approach to saving money.
A survey by the Canadian Payroll Association found that the number of workers able to save at least five per cent of their paycheques grew to 62 per cent in 2020, up from 59 per cent in 2019. And it found the proportion of Canadians living precariously from paycheque to paycheque dropped by six per cent this year.
The numbers come as Statistics Canada reported in July that it expects roughly 50 per cent of consumers to spend less on eating out, less than 40 per cent to spend less on entertainment and around 30 percent to spend less on clothing and apparel.

That leaves a chunk of Canadians wondering how they should use that money for the first time.
Bilton has since left his job in audio and video equipment because of the second wave, but says his mindset around saving money has changed because of the pandemic. He even sold items like his Macbook and Nintendo Switch because he only works from home on his desktop and exclusively plays video games remotely with friends, as they can’t come over anymore.

“It’s definitely made me want to save more money because getting a job is becoming a bit rare,” says Bilton. He says graduates from his college program in TV and film usually have an easy time finding work, but his industry has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Lola Hidalgo, who started working from home in Burlington, Ont., says the pandemic has had a noticeable effect on her expenses as well. Hidalgo used to commute to St. Catharines, Ont., while her husband would commute to Toronto. The pair now spend less on gas and transit as they work from home, while also choosing to cook at home more often.

Hidalgo says they immediately noticed the extra cash when the pandemic started and decided to invest in tech stocks -- a venture that has proven successful for the couple. There were some expenses as well, including hundreds of dollars spent on setting up a system of security cameras around their home. She says the pandemic has had a net-positive effect on their finances, adding that she was lucky to have a home office prior to the pandemic and didn’t have to spend the money to establish one. “We’re definitely fortunate, but we do know that anything could change at any time,” adds Hidalgo. Rather than change her approach to saving, Hidalgo says the pandemic has strengthened the values she learned from her father, who owned a business. “We definitely feel like it’s important to have savings to fall back on, whether something happens to my husband or I.” For Hidalgo, that translated into having a year’s worth of emergency funds tucked away for a worst case scenario. She says she’s thankful to be one of the lucky ones who’ve managed to hold on to remote work while continuing to work on saving money.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press