One year later, Americans still ‘panic-buying’ essential goods during COVID-19

NEW YORK — It turns out the coronavirus pandemic isn’t just changing how Americans live, it’s changing how they shop as well. According to a new study, the pandemic has permanently changed spending and shopping habits for a majority of American consumers.

In a survey of 2,000 Americans, 60 percent report that 2020 has forever affected their budget and how they spend their money. Commissioned by Slickdeals and conducted by OnePoll, the survey finds that while U.S. consumers spent much less money overall on things like movies (49%), luxury goods (46%), clothes (42%), video games (42%), entertainment (41%), and restaurant dining (41%), more money went into purchasing essential goods and subtleties.

In 2020, Americans increased their spending on groceries (41%), self-care products (23%), and takeout (22%). Nearly half the poll (49%) said they started “panic-buying” essential goods at the beginning of the pandemic. The most common panic-buys during this time included toilet paper (50%), cleaning supplies (42%), hand sanitizer and water (41%), and paper towels (40%).

Focusing on home sweet home

Pandemic Era SpendingOne year later, 48 percent of Americans have eased up on their panic-buying habits, but 14 percent are still panic-buying essential items. People are still purchasing essential items like toilet paper (35%), water (31%), cleaning supplies (30%), hand sanitizer (29%), and paper towels (28%) more than they did at this time in 2020. More than half the poll (58%) said they reallocated their “going out” budget for staying in, with 41 percent of Americans spending more money on “nesting” — comfortably redecorating their home.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of these nesters feel more pride in their home since they began investing more money and time into it. Seventy-six percent of these proud nesters believe they’ll spend more time post-pandemic indoors because they’ve fallen in love with their homes. More than a third (37%) describe their redecorated homes as sanctuaries for themselves and their families. A quarter even said their homes now feel cozier and more put-together than before COVID.

“Our internal data supports what consumers are reporting in this survey when it comes to their spending over the course of the pandemic year,” says Ryan Tronier, senior personal finance editor for Slickdeals, in a statement. “We’ve found search volume continues to remain high in the categories of home improvement and home office; and while there’s been a decline since the height of pandemic for searches related to essential items, terms like toilet paper continue to be popular with our users.”

Yet, not all spending changes were a choice or just a simple reallocation of the family budget. Two out of five Americans said they had a “significant” financial setback or loss in 2020. For 75 percent of them, their money problems made them reevaluate their long-term budgets.

Everyone loves a sale

Pandemic Era SpendingIn addition to budget cuts, 43 percent of respondents had to deal with unexpected expenses within the past year. These included new bills (31%), new savings costs (22%), needing new clothes (22%), and groceries (19%). Many respondents also mentioned the costs of funerals, medicine, and other health expenses.

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) said they received a stimulus check within the past year. For most, their stimulus money went straight into necessities like bills (58%), groceries (34%), and savings (29%). However, over a quarter of respondents (29%) felt guilty for buying something unnecessary with their stimulus money. Respondents felt guilty for buying items like designer bags and shoes, new appliances, weekend getaways, skincare products, and even home décor.

American spending habits also point towards hunting for the perfect deal. Over half the poll (54%) would be willing to spend more than their budget would allow if the item they want is on sale. Nearly as many (52%) are willing to buy things in bulk if they’re on sale.

All things being equal, eight in 10 Americans say they’re more likely to buy essential items on sale than non-essential items and luxuries. When the paycheck comes in, 69 percent of Americans will first tackle their bills. After that, they will go shopping for groceries (54%), spend money on transportation expenses (31%), clothes (25%), medications (21%), and their pets (21%).

“The study showed that the past year has significantly impacted how a majority of Americans spend their money,” Tronier adds.