The pandemic is redefining necessities for Americans, survey finds: 47% say they no longer need to dine out and more

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In a Nutshell

The coronavirus pandemic is redefining what Americans feel they need to spend money on, according to a Credit Karma survey. Nearly half of survey respondents said they’ve realized that they don’t need to spend money dining out anymore, and more than a third said they don’t need to go to the movies. Find out how people plan to change their spending following the pandemic and get some tips to help you track your finances.

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The coronavirus pandemic is changing Americans’ spending habits, according to a Credit Karma survey that found that nearly half now realize they don’t need to spend money on dining out.

Many respondents said they also no longer feel the need to spend money on gym memberships, going to the movies, or attending concerts and other live entertainment.

In the past we’ve talked about how the fear of missing out, or FOMO, can lead people to overspend to keep up with friends. But our recent survey indicates that FOMO-related spending may be seen as less essential for the future. Almost half (44%) of respondents from our survey said they think they’ll feel less pressure to spend money to keep up with appearances once the pandemic is over. (Learn more about our methodology.)

In addition to potentially feeling less social pressure to spend, some survey respondents said they’ve developed healthy financial habits — like monitoring their finances more closely and setting up a monthly budget — that they plan to continue after the pandemic. However, time will tell whether people stick to their newfound spending habits: A full 43% of respondents said they plan to “treat themselves,” by spending more than they usually do on items or activities, when the economy fully re-opens.

Key survey findings

Almost half of those surveyed (47%) said they’ve realized they don’t need to spend money on dining out since the pandemic began. In addition, more than a third of respondents (37%) said they no longer feel the need to spend money on going to the movies, and 28% said the same for live music and entertainment.
Nearly half of those surveyed (44%) predicted that post-pandemic, they’ll feel less pressure to spend money to keep up with appearances.
More than three-quarters of respondents (78%) have adopted new personal finance habits during the pandemic they want to keep, such as keeping track of their finances more closely, cutting back on daily spending and maintaining a monthly budget.
Even so, more than two-fifths of respondents (43%) said they plan to “treat themselves” after the economy fully re-opens.

What are Americans planning to stop spending on post-pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has led some Americans to change the way they think about necessities when it comes to day-to-day spending, our survey found.

Here are the top five things that people we surveyed have realized they can stop spending money on.

  1. Dining out (47%)
  2. Seeing a movie in a movie theater (37%)
  3. Live music or entertainment (28%)
  4. Gym memberships (27%)
  5. Clothing (26%)

How has the pandemic changed Americans’ financial habits for the better?

The coronavirus pandemic has had a positive effect on how many Americans track and plan their finances, according to our survey. For instance, 78% of respondents developed a new personal finance habit during the pandemic that they’re planning to continue once COVID-19 subsides.

According to our survey, here are the top three positive financial habits that Americans want to continue once the pandemic is over.

  1. Tracking personal finances more closely (37%)
  2. Cutting costs on daily expenses (33%)
  3. Keeping a monthly budget (31%)

And although about two in five (41%) respondents said they’ve felt pressured to spend money in the past to keep up with others, nearly half (44%) of Americans recently surveyed said that after the pandemic they’ll be at least a little less likely to feel social pressure to spend money. On the other hand, almost one in five (16%) think they’ll feel more social pressure to spend after the pandemic.

In addition, more than two-fifths of respondents (43%) said they plan to “treat themselves” once the economy fully re-opens. So even though the pandemic seems to be encouraging people to adopt healthier financial habits, it’s unclear whether the trend will continue post-pandemic.


Tips to keep your budget on track during and after the pandemic

If your spending habits have changed for the better during the pandemic, or you’d like to use this time to try out some new financial tactics, here are some tips to keep yourself on track regardless of whether you’re quarantined at home or free to go out and spend.  

  • Track your spending and keep a budget. Many Americans we surveyed said that helpful financial habits they’ve developed during the pandemic include either keeping a closer eye on their finances (37%) or keeping a monthly budget (31%). In pre-pandemic times we might have recommended something like the 50/30/20 budget rule — and that may still be the right approach for some. But for others it may be more important right now to keep a closer eye on spending with a goal of saving anything you can to cover emergency expenses.
  • Find ways to cut your monthly expenses. More than a third of respondents from our survey (34%) said they haven’t yet taken any action to lower the cost of their monthly bills. If this describes your situation, know that the pandemic can be a good opportunity to reassess your spending. Think about what you’re not really using right now. Maybe you’re driving a car less and don’t need as much insurance coverage? This could be the time to call your auto insurer and ask for a discount or other policy adjustment — something 15% of those surveyed have done.
  • Be open and honest with friends and family about your financial situation. Money is one of the top stressors for American adults, according to a 2019 report from the American Psychological Association, and it comes with complicated feelings. So it can be tough to talk about money with others. And though your comfort level may vary depending on how well you know someone, talking about your finances can help you let go of feelings of shame and guilt and also help those closest to you better understand your situation.
  • Be kind to yourself and know that the path toward financial health takes time. Consider reframing how you see things. Treat cutting back on spending, getting your finances in shape and saving more as “intentions” rather than firm goals. This framing leaves space for you to be kinder toward yourself if you fall short. It’s also important to acknowledge that progress isn’t linear and may take some time.

Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in June 2020 among 1,043 American adults to better understand how their spending habits have been impacted during the coronavirus pandemic.