Expecting a fat salary bump? You’ll need it to return to work

Missing your daily commute? I have good news.

Commuting is back — more annoying and more expensive than ever.

And that’s true whether you commute by car, by bus or by train — subway or choo-choo. (If you commute by skateboard, gas prices are not an issue. What is an issue are skyrocketing hospital costs, which you will inevitably incur when practicing your fakie big-spins in the company parking lot.)

Increased commuting costs are only one aspect of the inflationary spiral currently enveloping employees who find themselves facing RTO, the awful acronym for “Return-to-Office.” ROT would be much more appropriate.

Which brings us to “With Inflation, Workers Are Facing Return-to-Office Sticker Shock,” a recent article by Emma Goldberg in The New York Times.

“The cost of a daily routine — travel, coffee, food — is far pricier than it was when offices shut down two years ago,” Goldberg writes. Agreeing with our author is Becky Frankiewicz, US president of ManpowerGroup, a staffing agency with more than 4,500 offices and a name that really needs gender realignment. Speaking, hopefully, for Man, Woman and Everyone In Between, Frankiewicz muses, “we’re ready to get back to work, and now can you afford to get back to work?”

According to a recent analysis of restaurant costs from Square, a technology company that usually focuses on eating your credit cards, “the average price of wraps last month was up 18% from a year earlier, with sandwiches up 14% and salads up 11% .”

This is offspring food, of course. On the highest rungs of the org chart, our corporate overlords face the skyrocketing costs of Kobe beef tartare and Chateau Lafite at Chez Golden Parachute. Clearly, company costs will have to be reduced. Slashing employee health care benefits is always a good place to start.

Finally, the return to your office means the return of expenses you could handle yourself while working from home, like child care and pet-sitting. Even if you used your time away from work to teach Fido to care for your children, expect your doggy nanny to demand an expensive upgrade to gourmet dog food and organic ChewStix. Your children, meanwhile, might decide to unionize. Fight them! They have enough power already.

If you’re caught in RTO mania, here are five money-saving ideas that could save you — and your budget.

No. 1: Walk to work

With gasoline prices headed for the stratosphere, you’ll definitely want to leave your car at home. Biking can be a healthy alternative, but trying to stuff your recently acquired pandemic poundage into bicycle shorts could be destabilizing to what’s left of your self-esteem. Walking is excellent exercise and, while your boss may object to your arriving to work several hours — or days — late, your ability to lord over Tesla drivers about who is doing the most to save the environment will make it all worthwhile.

No. 2: Lunches are for sharing

No more exotic food trucks and pricey bistros for you. Brown-bag it instead. Don’t write your name on your lunch but do make a mark so you can tell which bag in the breakroom fridge is yours and avoid it.

Think how much you will enjoy a co-worker’s Michelin-star lunch while listening to the howls of outrage from whomever got your midday repast of stale Goldfish crackers and petrified slices of American cheese.

Afraid of retaliation? As long as it’s not green tuna, you’ll be fine.

No. 3: Don’t go out for coffee

You could drink the coffee the company provides, but you surely can find a better-tasting beverage, like brake fluid. Unfortunately, you might have to give up exotic coffees, like kopi luwak, which is made from beans eaten by Asian palm civets. But before you take such a drastic step, check your associates. Chances are that the IT department employs a number of Asian palm civets and will be happy to share.

No. 4: Take advantage of company benefits

Companies responsive to the financial needs of employees facing “lunchflation” are offering discount vouchers for local restaurants. If 10% off the Stowaway Stew at your local Seaweed & Chips is not appealing, raid the supply closet. Post-It notes are surprisingly filling and tasty, especially the yellow ones. Add a sauteed glue stick to a printer cartridge, mix, and you’ve got an excellent consomme. Chewing on pencils will sate your hunger, floss your teeth and provide needed fiber.

No. 5: Spend more time with your manager

It will make you lose your appetite, guaranteed.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected]

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