Beyond TP: new pandemic spending habits

Where we're spending more and cutting back

May 20, 2020 | Editorial | Spending Habits | Budgeting
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The irony here: thicker than 2-ply.

The pandemic has changed the way we interact with our finances

We're spending less on clothing, and more on groceries. Less on gas to get to the offices that aren't open, and more on online purchases to the doorsteps we seldom leave. But you probably already knew that.

We're here to go beyond the obvious and into the more unusual ways the pandemic is changing consumer spending, a force so powerful that it accounts for 70% of our country's GDP.

Where we're cutting back

Medical procedures: joint and spine operations are down over 40% as patients appear less willing to enter a medical facility for something that isn't life-threatening. Similar drops can be seen among dermatology, cardiology, and even cancer-related procedures.

Meat: 24% of people are eating more plant-based meals to cut back on the growing expense of the pandemic-upended meat industry. Even at wholesale clubs like Costco, the price of beef has more than doubled over the past two months.

Where we're spending more

Pups: shelter-in-place has lead to a pet adoption boom, while pre-pandemic pets may be beneficiaries of constant contact with their housebound owners: dog food sales are up 54%, while related supplies have increased by 24%. Cat chow isn't far behind, with a 52% increase.

Stocks: millennials are nearly six times as likely as baby boomers to invest in the stock market during the pandemic, possibly in an effort to take advantage of the current market's volatility. Those who invested during the S&P 500 this April have enjoyed the index's best month in decades.

What we're running low on (besides TP)

Golf pushcarts: as caddies and golf carts prove to be infection risks during the pandemic, those who insist on hitting the links are using pushcarts to carry their clubs, triggering enough demand to make the niche cart widely unavailable (although some alternatives do exist).

Hooks and worms: another naturally solitary sport, fishing, has exploded in popularity with people looking to escape the house while avoiding contact. The demand has led to a national bait and tackle shortage and even an increase in the price of worms (which the NYSE does not track).

Will any of these changes last? Or surprise us?

As the country reopens more businesses, expect to see pushcarts return to shelves, while meat prices stabilize and medical procedures get rescheduled. But smaller community medical centers may close their doors for good due to steep losses in business.

An unusual spending change that could last another season: growth in gardening-related purchases, as consumers seek to cultivate their own cheap, sustainable food sources while grocery prices spike. The National Gardeners Association alone is fielding over 500,000 questions each week from hobbyists hoping to cultivate green thumbs.