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Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

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“He suffered,” she said. “But he wasn’t ready to die.”

Ms. Smith visited him every other day, sometimes taking steak sandwiches, pizza, and other favorite foods from him. And she often ate dinners and snacks from the nursing home – which didn’t cost her anything. She now prepares all of her meals at home and spends about $ 60 a week on groceries, including the fish cakes, which she practically makes a living on. That’s about twice what she’d spent eating with Bruce.

She said she didn’t realize how much her life revolved around these visits and the friends she made in the nursing home, which she continues to work through with the help of several grief groups. “Suddenly I didn’t have it anymore,” she said.

During the summer, she gardened and grew her own vegetables in raised beds, including peppers, pumpkin, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. That helped improve her bottom line: “I’ve saved so much money on products,” she said. “I hardly went to the grocery store.”

In a normal year, Ms. Smith would have spent about $ 2,000 traveling to Denver to attend mineral shows and buy supplies for her jewelry business while also taking a few days off to relax. But the pandemic has forced Ms. Smith, who wanted to work and save until she was 70, into partial retirement.

She stayed afloat for some time to raise unemployment benefits, but the extra federal cash expired in the summer and her state benefits ran out in mid-December. The checks didn’t come back until early February when the year-end stimulus bill went into effect for them. Ms. Smith started collecting Social Security a few months before she would have received full benefits, which reduced her payments by $ 16 per month, and began to immerse herself in her retirement plan.

“I didn’t plan that,” she said. “I want to work.”

Ms. Smith’s house is being repaid, but her annual property taxes of $ 5,000, some of which are due in late May and August, are an impending expense. Her car, an 11-year-old Chevy Aveo, still drives hard even after paying just $ 1,500 to replace the clutch. She is naturally frugal and not a big buyer. But she gets a thrill when she finds an almost new product on the flea market – be it a beautiful sweater or unworn leggings. One of the few services she indulges in is hiring a landscaper to cut her grass in warm weather.

But she longs for her life as it was. When the pandemic is over, Ms. Smith said she will return to the dance classes she took at nearby Lehigh University and would like to return to teaching yoga and selling jewelry. She’s itching to travel again – as she did before her husband’s health deteriorated – and hopes to visit Alaska.

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Robert Dunfee