6 pandemic money habits and attitudes to keep for the long term

COVID changed the way Americans spend and save money. Here’s a cheat sheet of which habits to keep and which to ditch.

Tags: Budgeting, Debt, Planning, Savings, COVID-19
Published: October 13, 2021

When the pandemic took hold in early 2020, Robert Johnson, a Neptune City, New Jersey-based personal trainer, quickly made some adjustments. He used a shopping list to expedite grocery store trips, stocked his kitchen with healthy food, experimented with new recipes and offered his clients virtual workouts.

Eighteen months later, those practices—which Johnson says helps him to save time and money—remain a part of his life. 

He’s among the many who adopted new routines during the pandemic. And now, as restrictions ease, personal finance and behavior economics experts say it’s an optimal moment to determine what habits and behaviors to reinforce, as well as which ones to ditch.

“It’s a good time to say, ‘okay, I changed some habits, how did that affect my overall happiness and my financial situation?’” says Terrance Odean, a finance professor at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who has expertise in behavioral finance.

As you do your review, keep in mind these behaviors that experts say are worth retaining.

 

1. Pay down debt 

With government money coming in and far fewer opportunities to spend during the pandemic, Americans dramatically cut down their credit card debt. Yet, in the second quarter 2021, credit card debt—as well as other debt—crept up again. Those who pay off their balance each month can avoid interest and additional fees, which can quickly add up, says Barry Saeger, a U.S. Bank Customer Goals Coach. He suggests checking a credit card’s mobile site or using its app regularly to keep track of charges and payment due dates. An additional safeguard, says Saeger, is to set a calendar alert to remind you of each month’s payment deadline.

 

2. Stash away extra money

“The overall savings rate increased significantly during the pandemic,” says Jay Mooreland, founder of The Behavioral Finance Network, a business that provides coaching for financial advisors. Yet, “much of that additional savings was more situational than habitual.” For those who have the means, the trick is to stay on track with savings as the world opens up again. That’s where budgeting comes in, says Saeger. It’s extremely important “to understand what money is coming in and where it’s going out,” especially as spending patterns change (think: increased dining out) and some government resources and programs go away. “It’s a matter of being aware and tightening up when necessary,” Saeger says.

 

3. Maintain your faith in investing

Through the first half of 2021, the brokerage industry opened more than 10 million new customer accounts, which is close to, if not above, the full-year record set in 2020, according to an estimate by JMP Securities. Investors of all ages have joined in. “I have so much more interest from my freshmen class in investments than I have ever experienced before,” says David Evans, a continuing lecturer at Purdue University’s division of consumer science. “They’re thinking about investing as a way to build wealth.”

Saeger points out that “having your money work for you” through compound returns is a great way to fund your future. Yet, he’s quick to add that anyone new to investing should take the time to learn the basics, such as joining an investing club or reading educational material. “The more financial awareness someone has, the better off they will be,” he says.

 

4. Schedule virtual meetings

Video meetings help with efficiency, as well foster diversity since they remove geographic barriers, Evans says. Features such as the “raise hand” button can lead to greater participation, he adds, as attendees can easily signal that they’d like to contribute to the conversation. There’s also a financial bonus to not driving to the office: less gas use and reduced wear and tear on your car. Back-to-back Zooms can be trying, though, says Mooreland, so be sure to schedule breathing room between meetings. Those little breaks “can provide relief to the brain and help us be more productive overall,” he says.

 

5. Embrace meal prep

All the at-home cooking we did during the pandemic benefitted us “from a financial standpoint and typically from a health standpoint,” says Saeger. For instance, a remote worker who once grabbed pricey premade lunches by the office can now make less expensive meals at home. Shopping habits picked up during the pandemic—such as ordering groceries online or creating a list to get in and out of stores quickly —can also reduce the risk of spending money on unneeded items. “The longer you stay in the store… the more things you put in the cart,” Evans says.

 

6. Continue at-home entertainment 

Activities such as board games, cards and family-oriented video games “have been reintroduced into our lives over the last 12 to 18 months,” providing a way for people to bond while staying within a budget, says Saeger. “Getting that time together is extremely valuable from an emotional standpoint, and you can also save money that you once spent on going to the mall or an amusement park,” he says.

 

Additional resources

The pandemic has brought up feelings of uncertainty for many. Here’s how to stay on track financially, even during unpredictable times.

This step-by-step financial planning guide can help you set a personalized strategy for achieving your short- and long-term goals.

 

Looking for additional savings strategies? Here are 9 simple ways to save money.