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Canadians added an incredible $127-billion to their savings in the first half of the year. How did they do it?

Some fresh numbers on consumer spending from RBC Economics offer some perspective. While overall consumer spending was up 2 per cent in August on a year-over-year basis, expenditures on travel and dining out were down. The economic lockdown to fight the pandemic has eased a lot, but not enough to provide Canadians the freedom to pursue two of their favourite activities.

Travel spending was down about 60 per cent compared to August 2019, although gas and automotive spending did rise a bit. While grocery spending was up 20 per cent, the amount spent on dining out was down 4.3 per cent. The $127-billion didn’t come from reduced spending on trips and dining alone.

Saving on daycare has helped a tonne, and so has a reduction in spending on entertainment. But the declines in travel and restaurant dining do show how exercising some spending restraint can help free up cash for saving. Unfortunately, it’s primarily well-off people who benefit most from this saving opportunity in the pandemic.

The Atlantic recently published an article on how the pandemic has created a class of “super-savers” – they’re mostly financially comfortable people. An economist explains that people who had the fewest job losses are the ones who have had the biggest cut in spending. The Atlantic article explains this via comments from professionals and other well-off people who have cut out travel and restaurant meals. One engineer estimated he’s spending about US$750 less per month on food in the pandemic.

The pandemic has been good for the personal finances of the financially secure. Their houses are soaring in value, their stock portfolios have surged back from the lows of March and they’re spending has been curtailed, which means they’re saving a bunch.

Will governments tap into this wealth via tax increases to help the people hard-hit in the pandemic? Should they? The next few federal and provincial budgets should be interesting.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list

Food waste is getting worse

A new survey shows the amount of food thrown out by Canadian households has gone up significantly since the pandemic began. Hasn’t everyone been complaining about rising food costs?

Will big houses be unsellable in the decades ahead?

A U.S. housing expert lays out a case that millennials and Gen Z prefer smaller, more compact homes in an urban setting, not mega-homes in the suburbs. He predicts plunging demand for big suburban homes just as aging boomers try to sell them in the decades ahead.

Humans versus robots

Seen this TV commercial from the robo-adviser Questrade? It really bugs investment advisers, one of whom has written a couple of blog posts on the topic. I’m including the latest because it’s an honest, intelligent attempt to help people compare the experience and benefits of working with a human adviser and a robo-adviser.

Bank accounts for business

A detailed comparison of what major banks offer in bank accounts for businesses.

Ask Rob

Q: You often mention virtual banks or credit unions with higher rates and I wonder if you move your money from one financial institution to another often to benefit from the higher rates.

A: I’m pretty busy with my job writing about personal finance, so I like to keep things very simple in my own financial life. I pick banks with good interest rates and keep my money there. I very rarely move money around to get a better rate. I would rather have a very good rate all the time than jump through hoops to occasionally get an excellent rate.

Send us your money questions. Globe and Mail personal finance editor Roma Luciw will tackle questions about money and parenting, and I’ll tackle the rest. Sorry we can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Today’s financial tool

Here’s a fee calculator that will help you understand the impact of fees on your investment returns. As I noted in a recent column, close to half of investors don’t seem to understand that they pay fees, and that fees eat into their returns.

The money-free zone

An insurance company recently ran a contest where kids were asked to draw their future dream home. Here are the 10 winners – I liked the house with the rooftop rock-climbing wall.

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