When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2020, Americans made resolutions to save their money and make wiser buying decisions.
A pandemic likely was not on their minds as a potential money-saver.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the daily lives of people around the world. The lasting effects are still unpredictable but likely permanent. Federal officials predict an increase in unemployment rates, bankruptcies, and damages to the U.S. economy. The National Bureau of Economic Research announced last week that the US officially entered a recession in February.
Because of the economic uncertainty, Americans started to take a closer look at their spending habits.
Clutch surveyed 351 people in the U.S. about how their spending habits changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did the start of the COVID-19 impact the spending habits of millennials in particular?
Sixty percent (60%) of millennials found themselves spending less overall during March and April.
Millennials spent more on groceries (40%), alcohol (13%), restaurants (8%), and health and beauty (3%), however.
Only 5% of millennials spent more overall during the start of social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations.
Overall, 61% of Americans spent less in March and April.
Although all Americans are finding places to cut costs, millennials, in particular, are decreasing and increasing their spending differently than other generations.
- More than 60% of Americans found themselves cutting back their spending in March and April.
- Spending cuts affected all generations: 64% of Generation Zers, 60% of millennials, 58% of Generation Xers, and 63% of baby boomers reduced spending.
- Overall, online purchases have remained steady: 43% of Americans are spending the same amount online.
- In March and April, Americans first cut down their spending at restaurants (34%) and then with travel (27%), health and beauty (14%), and shopping and retail (13%).
- 47% of Americans are spending more on food. Almost half of Americans (45%) increased their spending at grocery stores.
- Nearly half of Americans (44%) are ordering food from restaurants for delivery or pickup 1–2 days a week, while 42% of Americans haven’t used these services.
- Vacation planning has changed for the rest of the year. About one-quarter of Americans (23%) canceled trips, and 32% stopped planning them altogether.
How COVID-19 Has Changed Millennial Spending Habits
- Millennials now spend more online
- Americans across generations are spending less on travel and at restaurants
- Half of millennials are still eating out 1–2 days a week
- Millennials increased spending on food
- Millennials spent more on alcohol
- Millennials cut back on travel planning
1. Millennials Now Spend More Online
Being stuck at home gives Americans more time to browse the web and scroll through social media.
With unlimited access to the online world, millennials are making purchases they likely wouldn’t make under normal circumstances.
About a third of millennials (30%) increased their online spending as a result of COVID-19.
Zachary Weiner, a millennial, is the founder of Restaurant Accounting, a service that helps restaurants with their finances. He has found himself spending more money on relaxing activities like coloring books and digital yoga and meditation classes.
“My primary reason for investing in such activities is to help maintain my mental health stability during the pandemic,” Weiner said. “I do find myself spending more online for such causes, but the benefits of doing so far outweigh [their] expenses.”
During stay-at-home orders in March and April, only 28% of millennials cut down on online purchases.
Michael James Nuells was laid off by Disney at the start of the pandemic. After his contract was cut short, his spending habits changed dramatically.
“My online shopping has gone from splurging on clothes, shoes, and food multiple times a week to only buying necessities,” Nuells said.
As a whole, 43% of Americans are spending the same amount of money online as before the pandemic.
Across different generations, millennials are the ones spending the most online.
DigitalCommerce reported in 2019 that millennials make 60% of their purchases online.
Tess Robison is a content specialist at Money Done Right, a financial website.
“I used to hate buying things online, but due to the pandemic, I would say 90% of the things I’ve purchased were from online,” Robison said. “I’ve put more money toward birthday, baby shower, and Mothers’ Day gifts.”
"I used to hate buying things online, but due to the pandemic, I would say 90% of the things I’ve purchased were from online."
Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, explained the phenomenon behind “retail therapy.”
“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” Marsden said.
Jamie Larounis, a contributor at UpgradedPoints.com, a travel points and credit card platform, decreased his personal spending dramatically and found ways to deal with the changing retail landscape.
“Because clothes and other things can’t be purchased due to stores being closed, those purchases have transitioned to being done online,” Larounis said.
COVID-19 prompted a rapid transition to online shopping. Millennials reduced spending in response to that economic uncertainty.
2. Americans Across Generations Are Spending Less on Travel and at Restaurants
In March and April, Americans assessed where their money was going, which led to them reducing their spending for different luxuries.
Americans (34%) first cut down their spending at restaurants.
Millennials (45%) gave up restaurants first, and 30% cut down on travel expenses.
Other expenses like health and beauty (12%) and shopping and retail (6%) also decreased.
A large portion of Larounis’ typical monthly spend was on travel, but because of events and other cancellations, he’s seen those expenses drop significantly.
“Prior to COVID-19, I spent a lot on travel, and over the past two months, that spend has gone to nearly zero,” Larounis said.
Robison cut back in similar areas.
“I haven’t bought any makeup at all in the last three months,” Robison said. “I’ve also spent less on travel and gas.”
Mason Miranda, a credit industry specialist at Credit Card Insider, found that his love of food was taking a hit.
“My wife and I are big foodies, especially when it comes to trying new restaurants,” Miranda said. “We used to spend a lot more money eating out, trying new places, and even traveling to find good food.”
Since the lockdown, Miranda and his wife revamped their budget, making grocery shopping more of a priority.
3. Half of Millennials Are Still Eating Out 1-2 Days a Week
Through contactless payments and food drop-offs, restaurants are adapting to meet American needs. Compared to their habits before the coronavirus pandemic, 48% of millennials increased their spending on food and groceries.
Restaurant employees are ensuring their spots meet sanitation standards and offering special menus for customers.
Even McDonalds made cuts to its menu, such as discontinuing its all-day breakfast, to make sure their customers still had the best possible experience.
Immigrant Food, a fast-casual restaurant based in DC, felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic early on.
A lot of its customers are professionals, driven toward the restaurant's lunch and happy hour specials. Some of them are World Bank employees that found themselves working from home at the end of February.
Immigrant Food shut its doors before adjusting to fit its community.
Since the shutdown, Immigrant Food introduced virtual events, started offering contactless delivery and takeout, and recently opened patio seating to meet DC’s Phase One guidelines.
All generations are taking advantage of efficient takeout and delivery options, like the ones Immigrant Food offers.
In fact, nearly half of Americans (47%) are spending more on food and groceries, and 44% of them order out 1–2 days a week
Since social distancing began, half of millennials (50%) found themselves ordering takeout one or two days a week.
Meanwhile, only 28% of millennials haven’t eaten out or used pickup and delivery options for their food consumption.
“In March and April, I was cooking and eating from home a lot more than usual, but in May, I got tired of cooking and ate out a lot more,” Robison said.
A study from Datassential shows that 89% of Americans felt safer eating food from a store or at home.
Some people are ordering takeout to support businesses, like Nuells: “I’ve been making an effort to eat out more and order takeout to support my local economy,” he said.
"I’ve been making an effort to eat out more and order takeout to support my local economy."
Others are trying to save money on luxury items to compensate for the cost of food delivery services, like Jess Drawhorn, who owns The Drawhorns Elopement Photographers.
“I’ve definitely found myself removing a $6 pint of ice cream from my cart online while also tipping $35 to have someone bring me my groceries,” Drawhorn said. “I’m trying so hard to save on personal splurges right now, while being as generous as humanly possible.”
Whether millennials are learning to bake sourdough or using their local dining spot’s carryout, food is a big priority in their budgeting.
4. Millennials Increased Spending on Food
While out-of-home eating options are limited, many Americans find it’s the perfect time to learn how to cook. Two-fifths of millennials (40%) increased their spending on groceries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly half of Americans (45%) increased their spending on grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping is considered an essential business activity, as food is a necessity. Stores, like Costco, limited their operating hours, even catering special hours to senior citizens and other high-risk individuals.
For some, tackling a big shopping list while pushing their carts is a sense of normalcy in this chaotic time.
“I still do most grocery shopping in-person, whether that be at Costco, Whole Foods, or a local market,” Larounis said.
The number of precautions that grocery shoppers must take for a quick visit to the grocery store may deter others, though. Online grocery shopping is reaching new heights.
According to Nielsen and Rakuten Intelligence, during the week of April 18, 2020, online sales of consumer packaged goods grew 56% in the month of April.
Grocery delivery services like Instacart are providing users access to their favorite local stores from the comfort of their own homes.
Drawhorn loves the convenience and control of shopping virtually.
“I’ve been loving grocery shopping online so I can easily see what’s on sale and keep an eye on my total as my cart grows,” Drawhorn said. “The idea of going into a store still freaks me out, and I’m grateful that I don’t have to do that right now.”
"The idea of going into a store still freaks me out, and I’m grateful that I don’t have to do that right now."
Consuming food is a basic necessity for us to survive. But outside of that, it is an area for comfort.
Cooking and baking are activities that act as stress relievers. They also provide a sense of control in a time where there is little to no control of anything.
Trying out new recipes together has helped Miranda and his wife find new ground in their relationship.
“We’ve found that trying new recipes at home not only saves us money and time, but also helps build our relationship,” Miranda said. “We’ve been able to spend more time together enjoying food … at home.”
All generations are spending more on grocery shopping, but millennials are seeing their spending increase in other areas since being stuck at home.
5. Millennials Spent More on Alcohol
American spending habits during COVID-19 contributed to a rise in beer and wine sales and a decline in liquor sales.
Whether they planned on it or not, 13% of millennials found themselves spending more on alcohol in March and April. In fact, the beverage industry is listed as one of the most resilient when it comes to economic downturns, according to Forbes.
Not being able to go out to bars certainly limited the amount of spending on alcohol to a degree, but millennials are finding new ways to drink responsibly.
Zoom, a popular video conferencing application, has become a hub for virtual happy hours and game nights.
6. Millennials Cut Back on Travel Planning
It’s hard to plan for a trip when the future of travel is uncertain. Nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) canceled trips as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forty percent (40%) of millennials also stopped making future vacation plans for 2020.
Twenty percent (20%) of millennials had to cancel planned vacations.
Robison’s best friend was set to get married at the end of April. After the wedding was canceled, Robison, as the maid of honor, delayed plans for her friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party.
The wedding was rescheduled for August, but it’s uncertain if that will stay the plan because of phase reopenings.
The travel restrictions impacted Drawhorn’s photography business because of the number of canceled weddings.
“Over the last ten weeks, I’ve canceled trips to photograph weddings in Sedona and Iceland,” Drawhorn said.
As travel regulations continue to change and the industry continues to adapt, a new normal for vacation planning is imminent.
U.S. air travel is down 90% from where it was this time last year.
Airline companies such as American Airlines are giving passengers the flexibility to use or exchange their unused tickets through December 2021.
To combat fear and ease passenger worries, Delta has doubled down on its cleaning program, even adding another sanitation process to disinfect all cabins. Most U.S. airlines now require all passengers to wear masks before hitting the skies.
But, a majority of Americans found themselves not impacted directly by the travel limitations.
More than 30% of respondents didn’t plan vacations in 2020, and once the coronavirus pandemic started impacting their lives, 32% stopped making vacation plans altogether.
Only 15% of Americans continued making future vacation plans.
Miranda and his wife found their own ways for adventure without any baggage by planning date nights.
“We’ve cut back on spending money on events for dates and spent more time on free activities such as hiking, sightseeing, cruising around the country, and playing board games,” Miranda said.
This socially distant way of dating and traveling might become the new normal for many millennials.
Millennials Are Navigating Spending Habits in an Uncertain Time
With the coronavirus pandemic, American spending habits will continue changing as people–and their wallets– adjust to changes in the economy and everyday life.
Millennials are finding themselves caring more about budgeting and finances than ever before.
Thirty percent (30%) of millennials increased their spending habits online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Expenses such as travel and eating at restaurants became the first costs that millennials cut back on.
Despite this, 50% of millennials continued eating out through pickup and delivery options one or two days a week.
Forty percent (40%) of millennials increased their spending on groceries, while 13% increased the amount they spent on alcohol.
As for vacation planning, 20% of millennials canceled plans they made for the year.
While the U.S. has begun efforts to get back to a sense of normalcy, millennials and Americans need to consider what the future holds and begin cultivating smarter spending habits.