I fell behind with my February update, so my update for March is being published only a week later. BUT, it’s kind of interesting to read these updates back-to-back—it really highlights how much has changed in just one month…
No surprise here—my life in March was all about the coronavirus, with nearly all my blog posts focused on something related to the pandemic. Here’s what happened:
Letting go of Japan
This photo taken on our 2018 trip to Japan
In early March, we made the difficult decision to cancel our long-awaited trip to Japan. At first, all I felt was relief. After weeks of flip-flopping on the decision, I just wanted to be done with it and move on.
However, reality hit a few days later. The disappointment of cancelling the trip, along with the sudden seriousness of the coronavirus, made for a tough few days (and month).
A few weeks have passed since then, and I’m finally feeling better. We have each other and our health, and Japan will always be there. With all that’s happened and still happening, we’re just grateful to be safe at home.
Trip cancellation madness
After deciding to cancel our trip to Japan, the next couple of weeks were filled with cancellation phone calls, emails, and online chats. Thankfully, we’ll get 100% of our money back, so it was worth the hassle.
If you’re facing a trip cancellation, I walk through how I was able to get all our bookings refunded in How We Got 100% of Our Trip Refunded During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Our replacement trip
To console ourselves after cancelling our trip to Japan, we decided to replace it with a week-long trip to Vancouver Island. So, amidst the flurry of cancelling our Japan trip, I also spent a good chunk of time planning and booking our replacement trip.
Since it was a local trip—only a ferry ride away—we figured it would be safe. However, a week after booking everything, our province ramped up their social/physical distancing orders. This made me rethink the safety of this trip.
For one thing, the ferry rides would be an issue. Not only would we be unable to physically distance ourselves from other passengers, but there was a chance that the ferries would stop running.
Another issue was our ability to maintain physical distance in the hotels, restaurants, and stores we’d visit. Sure, we planned to spend a lot of time outdoors, but we’d need to be indoors once in a while. This would increase our exposure and the chances that we’d spread the virus to others.
We decided it wasn’t worth the risks—it was safer to cancel this trip as well. Ugh!
Not so lucky this time
Of course, that led to more cancellation phone calls, emails, and endless waiting on hold. Unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky with this trip, and only received refunds for half our bookings.
I could spend time trying to get the money back through insurance, but I’ve decided to let it go. I’m just too weary after all the calls to cancel our trip to Japan!
Instead, I’ll consider the forfeited reservations to be a donation to the travel industry. Hopefully, in some small way, it’ll help those who are hurt by the downturn.
Our new normal
So, no more travel. No more day trips. No more outings, really, of any kind. What now? I wrote a little bit about our new day-to-day routine in How We’re Physical Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
This week, we’re in transition again, with the boys starting their online schooling and M returning to work. Once we’ve settled into this new routine, I’ll write a follow-up post that goes into more detail.
Here’s what happened with our investments in March:
Our mortgage refinance finally completed
It was a months-long ordeal, but our mortgage/investment loan refinance was finally wrapped up in March. It took a bit of finagling to get all the linked bank accounts and transfers set up, but now it’s all done!
Investing the lump sum
On March 3, we finally received the lump sum from our mortgage refinance. BUT due to difficulties in setting up the transfer, the money wasn’t invested until March 20.
Fortunately, this ended up working in our favour: March 20 was the second-lowest point for the S&P 500 in Q1. It was near-perfect timing for us! (Of course, I’m not a market timer—this was pure luck, not a premeditated or planned move.)
In the end, I’m thankful that our refinancing took as long as it did. If it had completed in January or February, we would’ve invested the money near the peak. Instead, we were able to buy our shares at a discount. It’s nice to have at least one thing go well in March.
Our net worth decreased (again)
Our net worth decreased by 12% from February, which brings us back to where we were in March 2018! This is a big drop, especially considering that the lump sum from our mortgage refinance has been factored in.
Still, I continue to be unfazed by this temporary setback. Ever the optimist, I believe our economies (and investments) will come roaring back as soon as we’re all freed from our homes again.
Our investment plan moving forward
I’ll save this for a future post, but for now, here’s our broad plan: invest into the dip as we can, while hanging onto more cash than I normally would.
March 2020 will go down in the record books as our lowest spending month ever. Here’s why:
This is unlikely to ever be repeated… but I went into YNAB to tally up our spending for March, and it was a negative amount! This anomaly was a result of two things:
- We spent almost nothing in March (being stuck at home is a huge money saver)!
- We received most of our trip cancellation refunds.
Since our trip cancellation refunds were greater than our minuscule spending for March, we ended up with negative spending for the month! Crazy and weird.
Our first order from a local produce delivery service (formerly a restaurant produce supplier)
You’d think this would’ve gone up, but our grocery spending was far less than normal in March: $206 vs our average $550.
That’s because we tried to avoid shopping as much as possible, and were mostly eating out of our freezer and pantry. However, I expect this trend to reverse in the coming months because:
- We’ll start to run out of stored food and will have to do more shopping again.
- We’ve been shopping at smaller, more expensive stores.
- We’re starting to use some local produce delivery services, which are also pricier.
We do this to not only avoid crowds but for better selection—the bigger stores seem to run out of produce all the time. Also, shopping small and local is one way we’re trying to help our community’s small businesses stay afloat.
Our gas spending was $140 in March—about the same as usual. Even though we did very little driving, we’d topped up all three of our cars before all this physical distancing started.
(Yes, even M’s classic Mustang. Since he’s working from home, and the weather’s getting nicer, he decided to take it out of storage last week.)
I expect our gas spending to be much lower in the months to come.
Since M doesn’t need to drive to work, he swapped the insurance on his two cars. His regular Mustang now has storage insurance on it, while his classic Mustang has regular insurance. This resulted in a small refund of about $90.
This was one of our biggest areas of savings for March. With no need for new clothes, nowhere to go for entertainment, no parties, and no eating out, our spending in those categories went to zero.
We not only didn’t spend on travel in March, but we actually got money back (from cancelling our trip to Japan). Since travel is one of the biggest line items in our budget, that made a huge difference in our spending for March.
My annual spending prediction
I suspect annual spending for 2020 will be much lower—not just for us, but for most people. It’ll be interesting to look back, total everything up, and observe which areas went down the most, and which increased.
My prediction is our grocery spending and energy use will go up while our gas and discretionary spending will go way down. Travel will likely still be high since I plan to rebook our Japan trip this year. (Starting with the flights, between May and September.)
We’ll see in December if my predictions were correct!
And that’s a wrap!
How was your March? Is your spending also lower than normal? Which areas are you spending more (or less) on?
Also, is your city in full lockdown, not locked down at all, or somewhere in-between? I’d love to know how you and your family are coping—please share in the comments below.
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