8 Ways to Make Sure Going Back to the Office Doesn’t Break Your Budget

A woman stands with her arms crossed in an office as coworkers walk past her in motion.
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If you’ve been asked to return to the office, you’re not alone. After a rise in remote work during the pandemic, millions of office workers have transitioned back into the office full-time in the past year.

How many employees are still working remotely? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pre-pandemic less than 10% of the workforce was remote, but during the pandemic, that number tripled. Currently, Stanford research indicates 25% of paid work days are still spent working from home, whether as full-time remote workers or hybrid workers.

Whether you’re one of many workers switching to a hybrid work schedule or coming back into the workplace full-time, there are things to consider before you make commuting and clocking into that 9-to-5 job happen. From child care to the price of gas, returning to the office has a figurative and literal cost.

How Return to Office Plans Could Hurt Your Personal Finance Goals

Those who work remotely know that while the isolation may have some mental health costs, being home also has its financial perks. From saving money on doggie daycare to skipping those extravagant lunches at boutique eateries, there’s no denying you rack up significant savings working from home.

Before your budget takes a significant hit, let’s look at what costs you can expect as you return to the office and how to plan for those expenses.

Need to rework your budget? Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating a budget that works for you.

The Rising Costs of Office Work

How much will you pay to return to the office? That depends on a few factors. Many employers are allowing hybrid work schedules, where employees only come into the office a few days a week. This takes a big bite out of commuting costs and eases the pain of the financial transition.

If you return to the office full-time, the consensus is you’ll spend an average of $50 per day, more than double what you spend working remotely. This includes commuting and food costs as well as pet care and child care expenses.

8 Ways You Can Save Money on Returning to the Office

Paying a few hundred dollars monthly to be back in the office isn’t much of a bargain for employees. But there are ways to soften the financial blow of returning to an in-office job.

1. Cut Your Commute

Average cost of commuting: $4.80 per day

If hybrid work is an option, embrace it. You’ll not only gain a couple hours and less stress every week by skipping the rush hour hustle, but you’ll save money on gas and car insurance.

But if your company isn’t open to flexible work, consider other options to cut commuting costs, like rideshare, carpooling or even biking to work.

2. Skip the Drive-Thru Lattes

Average cost of a latte: $4.20 per day

Ignore the siren song of Starbucks and head straight for the free coffee in the break room. Being back in the office doesn’t have many financial benefits, so savor access to a bottomless cup of joe while it lasts.

3. Get Creative with Child Care

Average cost of child care: $44.20 per child, per day

Until now, you may have had some latitude with employers about child care accommodations, but that flexibility will vanish when you return to the office. Even amid the pandemic, The Penny Hoarder found 84% of parents worried about whether they could afford child care costs.

Connect with your employer to see if they are one of many companies offering child care benefits for returning employees. If not, consider asking neighbors, friends or even colleagues with kids if they want to start a child care co-op.

4. Trim Pet Care Costs

Average cost of doggie daycare: $30 per dog, per day

Quite a few families opted to get a pet during the pandemic, so returning to the office may cause chaos for our four-footed friends. While you can’t defer the doggie daycare costs, you can find other ways to spend less on pet care with DIY grooming, free or low-cost clinics, and more.

5. Pack Your Own Lunch

Average cost of eating out: $15 per meal

Brown bagging it may seem old-school, but lunchflation is real. Inflation has driven up food prices, so the leisurely lunch you used to enjoy off-site every Friday will cost you about 10% more.

6. Don’t Forget About Dinner

Average cost of meal delivery: $33.94 per order

You come home late, tired and hungry, and that food delivery app seems like the best idea you’ve had all day. But a steady diet of takeout is bad for your health and your wallet.

Instead, plan your meals and do meal prep on the weekends so you won’t be tempted by the first thing that crosses your notifications from Uber Eats.

7. Dress for Success Secondhand

Average spending on clothing: $1,020 per person, per year

You’ve probably been schlepping around in sweatpants at home like everybody else, so the business casual section of your closet may look a little thin or outdated.

Before you run up your credit card at the department store, freshen up your wardrobe with secondhand finds or start a capsule wardrobe for cheap.

8. Ask for Compensation

Average anticipated raise for 2023: 4.1%

While the person from accounting won’t make this delineation, it’s important to frame asking for a raise as asking for compensation. You’re absorbing additional costs to come back into office. It’s not out of line to ask to be reimbursed for some of what you’re paying.

Not sure how much to ask for? Lead with a pay analysis and gather data about how much it’s costing you to return to the office, coupled with current salaries across the industry for your position.

Ditch a Return to Office for a Work From Home Job

At the end of the day, whether returning to an office makes fiscal sense for you and your family is the most important factor. Sit down and look at your budget, your pay rate and your expenses. For example, you might lean into a work-from-home position at a slightly lower pay rate because you’ll make more without commuting costs.

If you can make the math work, consider starting a freelance business. Either way, make sure when you return to the office, your back-to-office budget is in place so you can get to work without sacrificing your financial goals.

Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics including finance, health, politics, education and technology for the last decade.