5 Ways COVID-19 May Be Shifting Your Spending Habits

mbg Financial Contributor By Brianna Firestone
mbg Financial Contributor
Brianna Firestone is a Financial Education Instructor certified by the National Financial Educators Council, and the founder of The School of Betty. Her expert advice has been featured in Money.com, Real Simple, and Business Insider. Firestone received her bachelor's in theatre from Stephens College and lives in Denver, Colorado.
Minimal shot of money bills

Your environment and what is happening in your life are the biggest influences on how you spend your money. That has never been more true than now. Some are relishing the time to slow down, while others are on the front lines. Some are feeling less stress while others are dealing with more than they ever have. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, this time in our lives has no doubt shifted your spending behaviors. And let’s be honest, these shifts are involuntary and in many cases out of pure survival.

Let's take a look at how our spending has shifted in ways big and small, and what it might mean for your future financial wellness:

1. Your spending is getting in alignment with your values.

Because we live in a very fast-paced world that is bubbling over with marketing messages and the constant command to buy, it's understandable that we give into these messages—without thinking about what we truly value. And because most of our days are on autopilot and run by our habits, we often find ourselves buying not because it is something we value, really want, or need, but simply because we trained ourselves to want it.

When the world came to a screeching halt, all of a sudden what you valued probably came to the forefront. If you had a major change in your financial situation, this shift happened naturally as you put focus on the necessities for your survival. And even if you didn't experience a financial change, you are now operating in a new world that is devoid of the access to your "normal" items. Dollars now are going to things that matter for you to be safe, secure, and healthy. 

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2. Less impulse buying.

Impulse spending used to be as easy and mindless as brushing your teeth. Not only could you purchase at the click of a button, but you could receive many items within hours. Instant gratification was the name of the game: Marketers loved it and our brains remembered it. Now, we're playing the long game.

In fact, if you did a lot of mindless shopping, you're probably shocked if you are seeing more cash in your bank. Yes, you can still go online with the intent to purchase, but most merchants are on delayed shipping—and that is enough for many to abandon their cart. This quarantine is hard, yet it has some positive qualities, and this is one of them. You can create new habits around these spending patterns that can benefit you as we move out of quarantine. 

3. You know how to allocate resources for essential items.

Your grocery bill that first month of quarantine probably looked a lot different than it does now. Most households aren't used to eating every meal at home, and so you might have experienced a period of adjustment. If you did, consider yourself incredibly fortunate as many don't have the space to figure out whether they bought too many snacks. The trick with grocery shopping for many is they don't spend enough time planning their meals and doing the meal prep in order for it to be easy. This can lead to large grocery bills and wasted food items.

Just like with our money, we actually have to spend time learning what we like, how much we eat, and what recipes are easy. This is the part we never want to slow down for, and well, we don't have a choice right now. Although many of us will run straight to a restaurant and hug a waiter when we can, this time period to cook, prep, and eat at home will be a game-changer for your grocery game in the future. You might just find yourself keeping your cooking game going when this is over.

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4. Your entertainment looks different.

Puzzle anyone? Entertainment these days seems so simple, doesn't it? Sitting in the sun, reading your favorite book again, playing games, watching whatever it is, it probably looks a lot different than it used to. Even having hundreds of TV shows to choose from on Netflix seems simpler than having to choose from that plus eating out, going to a bar or a movie, seeing a game, or even deciding who to hang out with.

Decision fatigue when it comes to entertainment most likely isn't a thing these days, and that isn't only helping our brains; it's helping our wallets. When we talk about spending our time and energy, this area is one that can deplete the bank, and this pandemic can help you get into alignment to decide where and how you want to spend those valuable resources. The future will thank you for the skills to say no and only fill that dance card with the options that are of value to you. 

5. You've discovered new ways to soothe, celebrate, and cope.

A lot of our spending goes toward helping us feel good, or feel better. Is that wrong? No, but it can lead us toward always looking on the outside instead of looking toward the inside. It's the "I'll be happy when" or "I'll feel better when" syndrome. In quarantine, we've had to find new methods to fill these needs, and they likely don't include money. The odds are pretty high that the smallest things are giving you calm and bringing a smile to your face. Shifting these habits now will have a profound impact on your future spending habits. It doesn't mean that you won't ever buy something in celebration or to give you a boost when you've had a rough day, but you will most likely do so with more awareness and intention, and those two things combined are a game-changer for your money and your life. 

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