Gina vaguely remembers a time when life was so busy she would hop on the toll highway to save time and avoid traffic. From there, she would keep going all day long, subsisting on drive-through coffees and grabbing take-out on the way home when she forgot to take something out of the freezer. Now she looks back on those days and can’t quite imagine why her life was like that.

“Wants versus needs have really become apparent after a year of this pandemic,” she says. “It’s amazing what you don’t actually need or can do without. I used to spend a lot of money on things I thought I deserved. I don’t want to go back to that.”

After more than a year of local and provincial lockdowns and false starts, signs of an economic reawakening have begun to appear as vaccines are being administered worldwide. In March, TD Economics forecast that Canada’s economic output could reach pre-pandemic levels sometime in the third quarter of 2021, months earlier than previously predicted.1 We don’t yet know if or when we will get to a place where we aren’t masking up, but economists are seeing light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel.

While we may be excited to get back to the people and activities we love, many of us are also pausing to think about what “normal” could look like, and what we want it to look like. For some, the idea of getting back to a post-COVID-19 world is so overwhelming that psychologists have coined the term “Cave Syndrome.”2 They’ve observed that among vaccinated populations, some still have anxiety about going out or having people into their homes.

“There is a wide variety of emotions related to the prospect of the re-opening process, including mixed responses,” says Karyn Hood, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Toronto. “Some people are eagerly anticipating the time they can reclaim some personal freedoms as they crave the interpersonal connections and structured routines of daily life. Others are more fearful and apprehensive about rejoining society. Some of these people — particularly introverts or those with anxiety disorders — have become more accustomed to living a ’bubbled life‘ and have embraced the safety, comfort and the routine of being at home.”

“Safe and comfortable has become the status quo,” says Ryan Lanaus, a London, Ontario-based Financial Planner with TD Wealth. “For some, it may be particularly calming to see some of the extra money that has been building up in our bank accounts. But with pent up demand, we may risk those savings if we don’t return to life in a mindful way.”

Taking that into account, what aspects of pre-pandemic life are you most looking forward to? What would you choose to do differently if you could? Whether you are raring to go, or a little unsure, our Reopening Survival Guide looks at some of the activities we may be anticipating most, several we may not, and ways we can prepare.

Your return to the office

I’ve almost always worked at home, so that hasn’t changed. It’s not that I want my wife to go back to the office, but I am looking forward to being able to go work at a cafe, so that we’re not together all the time.”
— Eric

Some have been stuck working at a makeshift desk in a corner of their kitchen, some are answering emails with a toddler on their lap. Many have had a harder time because of a downturn in their industry. Whether you are getting back to working in an office or hoping the economic recovery will lead to more steady work, it’s exciting to think about the possibility of getting dressed up for the workday again and saving sweatpants for the weekends where they belong. But the return of your daily commute may also come with a return to the time crunch, and stress and expense that comes with it.

“Maintaining a more basic routine with time for both health and self are lessons many have learned during the pandemic,” says Hood. “Before rushing headfirst into your old ‘normal,’ make some time to take stock of what you learned about yourself: What kept you energized, elevated your mood, and enhanced your health and well-being?” Hood says answering some of these questions may help to maintain better work-life balance going forward.

There may even be an opportunity to return to work on your own terms, and still save some gas money. Lanaus suggests that many organizations are starting to see business sense in the added flexibility and balance working from home allows for its employees. “There are cases of businesses showing increased productivity with their workforces working from home,” says Lanaus. “Companies may see their productivity increase, but you might be able to save hundreds of dollars a month on your commute.”

He encourages his clients to talk with their managers to see if they might offer some flexibility on an ongoing basis. It could be a win-win situation for your health and your wallet.

Your next vacation

“I am looking forward to spending money on vacations. In fact, a trip out west has been booked and a big family trip to Disney in 2022 has been booked too!”
— Julie

Does your computer screensaver involve a tropical scene with a beach and azure waters? During the pandemic that was about as close to travel as many of us could get. With borders closed, travel plans were upended. Being cooped up during the long, cold Canadian winter had us fantasizing even more than usual.

“Many people are keen to shed the cabin fever and COVID-19 fatigue that has plagued them this past year,” says Hood. “The world became much smaller in many ways due to our restrained living conditions, and people are craving the change of scenery and variety of experience that comes with travel.”

Lanaus says that this moment can be a great one to see where you stand financially. Were you able to save during the pandemic? If you were out of work, did you have to dip into debt? Once you know how healthy your financial picture is, you can see where a vacation fits, and how extravagant you can go. “Using a goal-based financial plan and a Tax-Free Savings Account can help you to put money aside regularly for your goals, short- and long-term, and grow that money tax-free,” says Lanaus.

Return to friends and entertainment

“I will never turn down an invite to join friends or family at a bar or restaurant and I will not hesitate to (literally) throw my money at the people I love and haven’t seen in over a year.”
— Matt

Get ready to feel the burn as you return to the gym. Soon you may be able to sit in stadiums to cheer on your favourite band or team. While most of us are thrilled to start doing the stuff we love once again, life has certainly sent us a reality check.

“There is definitely pent-up demand for goods and services,” says Lanaus, “but there are also many people who are questioning whether they should go back to their old habits. I believe there is demand to get back to normal, but I also think that this forced reset has opened some eyes as to how they spend their discretionary income. Now might be a good time to create an entertainment budget with limits and goals, so you can focus on spending on the things you love.”

Speaking of which, your kids are also likely feeling the isolation and anticipating the return to potentially expensive hobbies and pastimes, such as hockey and piano lessons.

“While your children require some level of social and physical activity to remain active and healthy, they don’t need to be over-programmed,” says Hood. “Bookmark the activities that kept you and your family grounded and optimistic during the pandemic. Ask your children what they liked best about their lives during the pandemic, as well as the things they missed most. Act with intention with your scheduling going forward.”

Return to savings

I paid off all my credit card debt last year just by not traveling/going out for a year!”
— Diane

Even if you haven’t been struggling financially during the pandemic, you probably knew someone who was. The pandemic really brought home the importance of planning for a rainy day: Circumstances beyond our control can impact our ability to bring in an income.

Whether or not we saved because we didn’t have anywhere to spend, or because we were being judicious, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented era of Canadian saving. According to Statistics Canada, household savings rates hovered somewhere between zero and a bit more than 5% of disposable income from 2016 to the first quarter of 2020. During the second quarter of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, it shot up to over 25%3.

Lanaus says that those savings could come in handy, though you may not need to think about keeping that emergency fund in cash. “There was an old rule of thumb that you should have three months’ worth of expected expenses in a savings account,” he says. “The problem with this is, if we leave cash uninvested ‘just in case,’ you could be missing out on potential returns.”

Lanaus suggests tackling any high-interest debt you may have accumulated in the last year. He says any extra savings can be kept in a TFSA in an investment that is accessible on short notice for emergencies. Lastly, if you had to forego saving for retirement last year, now may be a good time to catch up on RRSP contributions. He says that you may think putting aside money will stretch you but prioritizing according to your current financial picture may help.

So, as things open up, we can all look forward to once again getting our hair cut, savouring a meal in a restaurant with people we missed or getting in line to ride a favourite rollercoaster. The pandemic has certainly instilled the importance of simple pleasures in life.

For those feeling more apprehensive about venturing out into the world again, take it slow, says Hood.

“I recommend that clients start their reintegration journey in a gradual fashion, slowly expanding their breadth of activities and starting with exposure to familiar places, but on a more consistent basis.”

If you find your symptoms of anxiety or depression are significantly interfering with your ability to get back to your normal activities, reach out to a mental health professional for assistance.

“Be kind to yourself,” says Hood. “You’ve lived through an extremely challenging period and it may take some time to get back to your normal. Keep faith. You’re almost through the tunnel…and there’s light and hope out there waiting for you!”