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With most of the country still under shelter-in-place orders and taking social distancing precautions, and limited to very few entertainment options, our spending has changed. At least for the short term. However, many Americans are already dreaming about returning to the activities they’ve been missing out on (like going to the hair salon to fix those botched bangs!).
CompareCards surveyed over 1,000 Americans to get a snapshot of how they’ve been spending money, and which indulgences they’re looking forward to.
“I think there’s going to be an absolute explosion of spending once this outbreak is behind us,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards. It won’t be possible for everyone because it’s going to take a long time for those who lost jobs to recover, he added. “However, for those who emerge from the outbreak relatively unscathed financially, the desire to spend is going to be massive.”
- Key findings
- Food, family and looking good top spending priorities
- Saving for a splurge
- Many say staying at home has helped their wallets
- A “new normal” for shopping habits
- Splurge cautiously
- Bottom line
- What’s the first thing Americans want to do? More than a quarter (26%) of survey respondents said they’re heading back to restaurants once social distancing guidelines are lifted, followed by traveling to visit family (15%) and getting a beauty treatment like a haircut or manicure (13%).
- More than half (55%) of consumers are waiting for the pandemic to end for a bigger indulgence:
- Nearly 1 in 5 plan to splurge on a vacation
- About 1 in 10 will make a pricey home repair
- 1 in 7 Gen Zers are eyeing a new car
- In the meantime, they are saving money. On average, Americans estimate they’ve saved about $330 in reduced expenses by staying at home. Some have saved more than others, with millennials pocketing nearly $400 and parents with young children saving $432.
- And some shopping habits may be changed forever. More than two-thirds (69%) of consumers said the coronavirus has changed their long-term shopping habits. Nearly 32% said the pandemic has made them more likely to shop online rather than in-store. The coronavirus crisis has also given consumers an increased desire to support local restaurants (21%).
Here’s a deeper dive into Americans’ spending during and after the COVID-19 crisis:
Food, family and looking good top post-pandemic priorities
“I think the pent-up demand is going to be enormous,” said Schulz, with people wanting most to go back to restaurants, and see shows, ball games and concerts. “They’re also going to board airplanes. They’re going to book hotels.” Of course, he noted, they might be nervous as they do it, and activities like dining out will vary by location. But eventually, people will get back to doing the things they love.
Among the first things consumers plan to spend money on once social distancing guidelines are lifted include:
- Going out to eat at a restaurant: 26%
- Traveling to visit family: 15%
- Beauty treatment such as haircut or manicure: 13%
- Booking a vacation: 9%
- Shopping: 6%
- Getting drinks at a bar: 6%
- Physical activity like joining a gym: 4%
- New decor or furniture: 2%
- Non-essential health treatment such as a massage: 2%
- Tickets to an event: 2%
Schulz said he’s not surprised that people are so eager to go back to restaurants. “Dining out drives an enormous amount of credit card spending, generates a lot of points and miles for rewards cardholders, and is just part of who we are,” he said. “You’ve seen that in how many people have gone to restaurants in states that have partially opened.”
Some preferences stood out by age group and gender, however.
For instance, Gen Xers were most likely to want to go out to eat at a restaurant, while Gen Z favored going shopping more than other generations. Gen Z and baby boomers (the youngest and oldest age groups in our survey) were also the groups more likely to put a beauty treatment at the top of their post-pandemic spending list.
Beauty treatments are more of a priority among women, with 21% saying they look forward to those grooming routines versus just 4% of men. For the guys, hitting the bar was higher on their wishlist than women (8% versus 3%).
Saving for a splurge
Besides everyday splurges, 55% of consumers also said they plan to really treat themselves with something bigger once the pandemic is less severe.
“It’s OK to splurge once in a while. Vacations, new cars, fancy dinners and the like are some of the things that bring us joy in life. But the key is not to splurge in too huge a way or too often,” said Schulz, pointing out that this is especially true if you feel insecure in your job.
The top splurge items cited in the survey included:
- Vacation: 19%
- Pricey home repair: 11%
- New clothes or accessories: 10%
- Expensive meal out: 10%
- New car: 9%
- New furniture or home decor: 6%
- Pricey car repair: 6%
- Expensive spa or beauty treatment: 5%
Overall, men said they were planning more indulgences than women. As for the age groups, millennials and Gen X had plans for a home repair (16% and 17% respectively). Millennials are also dreaming about a vacation (23%). And Gen Z has eyes on getting a new car (14%) as well as planning to get new clothes/accessories (20%).
Many say staying at home has helped their wallets
On average, Americans estimate they’ve saved about $330 in reduced expenses by staying at home.
“Some are spending far less than they normally do. They’re not dining out, going to concerts and ball games, taking vacations and making other types of big purchases,” said Schulz. “Eliminating those types of buys leaves much more money for people to stash away.”
Think about it: Even if families are whipping out their credit cards to pay for more streaming services and food delivery, it’s still probably less expensive than going out for dinner and a movie.
On the other hand, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that position. “Some are spending more because they have to, because their financial world has been flipped upside down by the coronavirus. And they need their credit cards to get by until their next paycheck or unemployment payment,” said Schulz.
For those who are spending less, millennials seem to be saving the most:
- Millennials: $393
- Gen X: $366
- Gen Z: $300
- Baby boomers: $274
Parents with kids home from school also have a savings’ edge over non-parents and those with grown children:
- Parents of kids under 18: $432
- Those with no kids: $321
- Parents of adult children: $244
A ‘new normal’ for shopping habits
Only time will tell what the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis will be on shopping habits. But at this point in time, more than two-thirds of consumers think some of their new norms will stick, including:
- 32% more likely to shop online versus in store
- 21% more likely to support local restaurants
- 16% more likely to support other local businesses
“I do think that many people will go back to their old ways and their old shopping habits once a vaccine is available and this episode in our history is behind us,” said Schulz.
One thing he would love to see continue is more support for local restaurants. “It is something that I am particularly passionate about, but I’ll admit that I am skeptical that people’s increased desire to help local restaurants survive will last far beyond the outbreak. I hope I’m wrong.”
While many of us are eager to begin spending on the things we love again (like dining out and shopping), it’s important to not let spending get out of control.
“One positive thing to come out of this episode in our history might be that we never have to convince people of the need for a rainy day fund ever again,” said Schulz. “This pandemic has shown just how quickly life can change, and people have to do what they can to be ready for it.”
Sadly, most people’s financial margin for error is tiny, even in the best of economic times.
That said, if you are financially stable and saving money, squirrel away as much as you can, said Schulz.
“You can designate some of that savings for fun stuff in the future, some of it for a rainy day and some of it for whatever other reasons you have, but do make sure that you’re saving. It’s enormously important.”
Ultimately, getting back to complete normalcy may come down to getting a vaccine, said Schulz.
Until then, as gradual reopenings expand, consumers seem poised to open their wallets little by little as their favorite activities and pastimes become available again, while saving up for bigger indulgences and celebrations once the pandemic is finally behind us.
CompareCards commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,039 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded April 22-24, 2020.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:
- Gen Z are ages 18-23
- Millennials are ages 24-39
- Gen X are ages 40-54
- Baby boomers are ages 55-74
Members of the silent generation (ages 75 and older) were also surveyed, and their responses are included in the overall percentages among all respondents. However, they are excluded from the generational breakdowns due to a low sample size in that age group.