Many Americans have changed their spending habits dramatically since the pandemic began.
Some lost income and had to cut back. Others found that staying home brought on forced savings since dining out, entertainment, travel and childcare became less available. Others spent more freely in response to boredom and anxiety.
So what will happen once the pandemic is over? We asked CNN Business readers what spending changes they plan to make once “normal” life resumes.
Spending more on travel, entertainment and home improvements
Kyler Booth, who works in HR management in Utah and lives with his husband and two children, is very eager to resume his pre-pandemic life of travel, dining out, entertainment and family activities. He said he’s also expecting to continue spending to make his family’s new home more comfortable.
“We have a desire to have those experiences – even if it means swiping that credit card because at this point we’re all just crazy in the head,” Booth said. “I fully expect to [initially] spend more than I normally would on these activities to make up for lost time.”
Charlotte Rowe, a research scientist and classical pianist in New Mexico, is looking forward to taking a vacation, traveling to see family on the East coast and resuming her spending on the arts, particularly tickets for symphonies, opera and musical recitals.
“I will be traveling as soon as it’s deemed safe for me. Haven’t had a vacation in eleven years and was planning one last spring, which of course went kaput,” Rowe said.
She’s also hoping to start remodeling the exterior of her home next summer.
Dana Sloboda, a hotel sales director in Pennsylvania, counts herself lucky to still have her job, although her company cut her pay by $10,000 after laying off most employees.
Her fiance’s income wasn’t affected, Sloboda said, but they’re putting off improvement projects for their new home. They’ve also been saving for their wedding, now rescheduled for November, which they hope they won’t have to postpone again.
Looking ahead, “I’m eliminating the unnecessary spending,” Sloboda said. She expects to forgo lunches out during the week since she now realizes how much she saves by bringing her food to work. And she’ll cut out her spending on “tchotchkes.”
But Sloboda does look forward to taking some trips and refreshing her wardrobe since she hasn’t bought clothes for the past year.
Breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle
Stage actor Taavon Gamble of Rhode Island was used to traveling a lot for work, buying things as he went and eating out. The pandemic put an end to that.
Though he was able to get a few paying jobs since mid-March and has some savings, he said, he’s also had to collect unemployment twice.
As a result, “I restructured my spending,” Gamble said, “It’s clarified what’s a need and what’s a want.”
While Gamble fully expects to go to restaurants again with friends once he’s back to working and earning money regularly, “It’s the consistency of how much you do it. I don’t feel I need to do it as frequently,” he said. “I won’t have a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality.”
Chelsea Kane has been temping over the past year and moved from Virginia to Maryland to live with her mother.
Kane said she is used to living paycheck-to-paycheck. But during the pandemic, as work became scarce, she ended up making more than usual from various forms of pandemic relief, including federally supplemented unemployment benefits.
“I saved as much of the unemployment checks as possible and continued paying my bills and student loans despite the [federal] relief in payments,” Kane said. “Several friends are now in a worse position than before because they didn’t save anything.”
She’s hoping her current temp job will become permanent. But even if it does, Kane said she’ll continue to spend very carefully because “I never again want to be in a tight spot financially.”
Changing values on where they spend their money
Penelope Luster is the sole support for her three children, ages 9, 14 and 20. While she had a very well-paying, high stress corporate job in finance and accounting, she was furloughed in April, then laid off in July.
The experience changed the Houston-based single mother’s mindset about the money she earns and how she wants to deploy it going forward. She’d always had three months of expenses saved but said she’d dip into savings regularly, in part to support her shopping habits, and then would replenish the pot with her next paycheck.
When the paychecks stopped coming, she was mad at herself. “I should have had more [in savings]” Luster said. “I’d gotten into a place of waste.”
Nevertheless, thanks to her savings, unemployment benefits, a local grant to help single parents who’d lost their jobs, lower car insurance payments and other “blessings” as she put it, Luster was able to pay her bills and even pay down her credit cards.
Being laid off also led her to a new job in her home state of Nebraska that pays $15,000 less than her old job but offers a better quality of life. “I value different things now,” Luster said.
She said she no longer will waste money on clothes and handbags to maintain an image of success. And eating out won’t be so frequent. Instead, after a lifetime of renting, she’s building a house for her family in Nebraska, which she plans to leave to her kids.
“I’m working for my kids’ security and safety for when I’m gone,” Luster said. They will always have a place where their family is … even if the world is falling apart.”
California-based media executive David DeBetta said he and his family have saved a lot of money during the pandemic by virtue of working from home, not going to restaurants and spending less on outside entertainment.
When the pandemic ends, DeBetta said, they don’t plan to resume their old ways. He and his wife have learned to cook and planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees. They’ve also made upgrades at home and now enjoy a home theater.
They used to eat out four or five times a week with their two sons, easily spending $100 for a casual meal at places like Chili’s, he said. Or they’d spend $50 washing their two cars. “You don’t realize the impact until you don’t do it for a year.”
And that realization has changed his mind about how they’ll spend money in the future.
When it comes to eating out, “we will only go out for special occasions,” DeBetta said. And when they do, they won’t pony up for cocktails or a bottle of wine because of the retail markup. Though, he said, they’ll still do takeout from favorite local restaurants.
For retiree Ellen Floriani, who lives in Florida, the desire to spend money on outside entertainment, restaurants and in-person shopping is gone.
“Our behavior and spending have changed forever. Shopping has lost its allure and we really don’t miss it,” Floriani said of she and her husband. “We shop online and at curbside pickup and find this much more leisurely and satisfying than brick-and-mortar stores and malls.”
Floriani said they’ll only go out for special occasions. And while they will travel to see family, the former New Yorker anticipates that whenever feasible “we’ll probably drive because I’m more annoyed than ever with crowds – and they can get you sick.”