In the weeks and months since COVID-19 evolved into a global health pandemic, almost every area of Americans’ lives has been replaced by a new normal. While experts expect that the world will be permanently changed by the impact of the virus – everything from our digital lifestyles to the way we engage with each other – Americans are already shifting their behaviors.
Public gatherings, personal hygiene, political engagement, travel, and work or school have all been dramatically altered by the coronavirus outbreak. Nowhere is this more evident than with spending habits and expenses.
For a closer look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s habits, we surveyed over 1,000 people about how things have changed or expect to change after the threat of the coronavirus has subsided. Continue reading to see Americans’ current priorities in the face of a new normal and expectations for the future.
Whether COVID-19 will trigger a recession remains to be seen, but the immediate shock of the health crisis on the U.S. economy has been profound. In March 2020, millions of Americans reported losing their jobs as a result of the coronavirus. And while the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act represents the largest stimulus bill in American history, experts struggle to predict the long-term consequences of a weakened global economy, complicated supply chains, and changes in household income.
During this unpredictable time, nearly 3 in 4 Americans said they plan to spend less of their monthly budgets as a result of COVID-19. The greatest spending increases were on grocery delivery ($83), online shopping ($49), and other in-home activities ($23), followed by in-person grocery shopping ($22), video game purchases ($19), and takeout food ($12).
In stark contrast, Americans spent $98 less shopping at malls or large department stores than they did before COVID-19, followed by a decrease in money spent on dining out ($54) and fuel ($52). Other reductions included child care ($49), sports events or concerts ($30), and gym memberships ($5).
Almost 63% of Americans reported a strain on their overall monthly budgets; Grocery shopping (27%), rent (around 22%), and utilities (nearly 20%) caused the greatest strain. If the effects of COVID-19 extend beyond April, more than 1 in 10 Americans expected they wouldn’t be able to pay their rent.
A New Normal
A few months ago, social distancing might have sounded like a way to get out of an unfortunate social engagement. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says social distancing could be the difference between life and death for millions of people.
As a result, many people have had to alter or cancel their plans. On average, Americans canceled two trips because of COVID-19, and those who had nonrefundable travel plans lost $540. More than 4 in 5 people stopped dining out due to the coronavirus, and other common cancellations included public gatherings with more than 50 people (nearly 73%), shopping at malls or large department stores (71%), and traveling more than 25 miles from home (around 66%).
More than half of Americans said they stopped going to the gym, while another 2 in 5 canceled attending religious services or weddings. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans had to cancel their plans to attend a funeral as a result of COVID-19.
So, what have they been doing instead? Almost 69% of Americans reported watching TV more since the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, which may have triggered the recent spike in streaming service and internet usage. People said they’ve also been spending more time doing household chores (63%), preparing meals (60%), calling friends or family (59%), and browsing social media (59%). And while they might not be going out to shop, 42% of Americans reported spending more time shopping online since the beginning of the health crisis.
Predicting the Future
For many people, the habits picked up as a result of COVID-19 may be hard to shake, even after the danger has passed. Around 92% of people have practiced social distancing since March 2020, and 18% of Americans expected to continue social distancing even after the dangers of COVID-19 subsided. Similarly, 74% of people stopped shaking hands or hugging because of the coronavirus, and 19% planned to continue this after the health crisis.
The concerns around COVID-19 may have changed the way we think about hygiene, too. In addition to the 69% of people who planned to maintain their new hand-washing regimens, people who started sanitizing surfaces (45%), using hand sanitizer (38%), sanitizing their groceries or packages (nearly 18%), and wearing protective face masks (7%) planned to keep these behaviors in place after COVID-19.
Around 2 in 5 people (42%) expected government protections around COVID-19, such as stay-at-home orders, to last for one to two months, while more Americans (46%) said they believe they’ll last for three to six months. Roughly 30% of Americans said they expect it will take seven to 12 months before life feels “normal” again, while 16% said they expect it will take over a year, and nearly 8% said they don’t think things will ever feel the same again.
The future may be more uncertain than ever, but Americans are already making major changes to their spending habits and daily behaviors because of COVID-19. Despite having to spend more money on food and groceries or in-home entertainment, a majority of people reported spending less money overall as a result of the health crisis and its economic impacts.
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Methodology and Limitations
To collect the data shown above, we conducted a survey of 1,004 respondents. The respondent pool was 50.5% female, 49.0% male, and less than 1% nonbinary. The time period before COVID-19 was measured as up until March 2020. A supplementary survey of 1,009 respondents was also conducted to learn how respondents have spent their time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because the survey relies on self-reporting, issues such as telescoping and exaggeration can influence responses. An attention-check question was included in the survey to help ensure respondents did not answer randomly.
The data were calculated to exclude outliers. We did this by finding initial averages and standard deviations for the data. Then, the standard deviation was multiplied by three and added to the initial average. Any data point above the calculated number was then excluded from the data.
Fair Use Statement
Are your readers thinking about life after COVID-19? Share the results of this study for noncommercial use by including a link back to this page as credit to our team of contributors for compiling this data.