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COVID-19 Preparation Spending Behavior

Once COVID-19 made its way to the U.S., and more and more cases were reported, many Americans seemed to go into survival mode. For some, this meant stocking supplies, like cleaning and paper products, toiletries, and food and drinks, to prepare for what was to come.

With emotion as the driving force behind people’s pandemic shopping habits, we surveyed 1,008 people who shopped in preparation for COVID-19 to learn what they bought and in what quantities, how much they spent, and if there is still panic over whether supplies will be available throughout the coronavirus outbreak. Continue reading to see what we found.

Preparing for COVID-19

According to our survey, 30% of people admitted to stockpiling goods because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eggs and toilet paper were the top items purchased in response to the coronavirus, followed by milk, pasta, and paper towels.

Many respondents also admitted to overbuying items: Over half of those who bought nonperishables, such as rice, lentils, beans, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pasta, and water, said they bought more than usual due to COVID-19.

On average, people stocked up on two and a half weeks’ worth of supplies, which would cover them for the 14-day self-quarantine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests for those who have been exposed to the virus or who have recently traveled.

Who Bought All the Toilet Paper?

Toilet paper certainly became a popular item purchased in preparation for the COVID-19 outbreak, as there have been cases of toilet paper hoarding and shortages all over the world. Our survey also found toilet paper to be a top item of interest: It was the No. 1 thing bought by baby boomers and Gen Xers (with millennials more interested in eggs).

In a recent Newsweek article, virologist Ian Mackay advised that things like bread, milk, eggs, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, and meat should be part of people’s shopping lists if a “severe pandemic” cuts access to fresh food. However, many of these items were bought by our survey respondents in preparation for that severe pandemic, instead of following his recommendation to stock up on these items ahead of time.

The majority of our respondents (64%) felt confident they had everything they needed in case they had to stay home for two weeks.

Splurging on Supplies

Social distancing might prevent people from frequenting restaurants and bars and going out the way they used to, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still spending money on food and alcohol. According to our survey, the things people spent the most money on while prepping for COVID-19 were, in fact, food and alcohol.

Regardless of what people spent their money on, half admitted to spending too much in preparation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of shopping for essentials like medicine, food, toiletries, and paper products, people spent on alcohol and entertainment. With the CDC encouraging people to stay home and practice social distancing, it’s no surprise people are stocking up on things to keep them busy during these times. Things like virtual happy hours and virtual game nights are helping people stay connected with family and friends during these times.

On the Hunt for Essentials

With so many people admitting to overshopping and stockpiling supplies in preparation for the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery store shelves are much more empty than usual, and grocers are struggling to keep up with customers’ demands.

The majority of our survey respondents reported feeling slightly or somewhat concerned about not being able to find essential supplies over the next month. Some of the items people continued to look for included hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and face masks and/or gloves. Over half of respondents said they were still on the hunt for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, which have become such hot commodities that many people are researching how to make their own disinfectant, and alcohol distilleries are using their facilities to produce sanitizer in bulk.

Almost half of high-risk respondents expressed a need for face masks and/or gloves but were unable to find them. The global shortage of masks may not end anytime soon, but many crafters are putting their skills to use by sewing masks for health care workers and those who need them most.

Shopping Must Go On

There is currently no end in sight for the current global pandemic, and people need to plan accordingly. Many people have already stocked up on essentials for at least a two-week period, preparing them for possible self-quarantine should they become sick with or exposed to COVID-19. There are still concerns about whether various supplies will be available to purchase within the next month, but that should not discourage you from looking for whatever it is you need.

In order to flatten the curve, shopping for these things online from home is the best option, as it prevents unnecessary personal exposure to the virus and also helps to keep others out of harm’s way. CouponFollow is here to help with plenty of options for online coupons to use when you shop online for paper goods, household essentials, food and drinks, medication, toiletries, clothing, entertainment, or anything else you need while safely staying at home.

Methodology and Limitations

Using Amazon Mechanical Turk, we surveyed over 1,000 people who said they had been shopping in preparation for the COVID-19 quarantine. To control for outliers, the following categories only looked at people who wrote in answers within the fifth and 95th percentile of answers:

  • Weeks spent preparing
  • Number of grocery store visits
  • All monetary values

The average age of our respondents was 38.4 with a standard deviation of 12.2.

The generational breakdown of respondents is as follows:

  • Silent generation: 5
  • Baby boomers: 130
  • Generation X: 284
  • Millennials: 561
  • Generation Z: 28

Sample sizes for the silent generation and Generation Z were not significant enough to include in the generational breakdowns.

We had 479 men, 523 women, and six nonbinary respondents complete our survey.

All of the information in this project relies on people’s estimations and self-reporting; therefore, there are limitations, such as the over- or under-reporting of information.

All items and categories were provided for respondents, but they were given the opportunity to write in additional items.

Fair Use Statement

If you or someone you know is interested in seeing what people are purchasing during the COVID-19 outbreak, please feel free to share this information for noncommercial purposes. All we ask is that you give us credit by linking back to our study.

about the author

CouponFollow Team
CouponFollow Team
The CouponFollow content team produces content about top savings hacks, frugal tips, and in-depth research about the coupon industry.