We collected the personal testimonies of tens of Millennials and young Americans (ages 18-39) and surveyed two thousand more to find out how their spending habits and financial behaviors have been affected by COVID-19.

To say 2020 hasn’t been a good year could be the understatement of the millennium. This year is proof that, despite human attempts to rise above the animal kingdom, we are in its thrall.

And how!

Coronavirus and humanity is the ultimate David and Goliath tale. An infectious agent, invisible to the naked eye, has felled us. The hives of the world’s most industrious nations are silent. Vacant offices. Empty airports. The unnatural stillness of once saturated streets. And, on every other human face, a mask.

When Greek tragedy seems universal and zombie movies look real, it’s hard not to get biblical.

Is this how Noah felt in the Ark?

From where we’re swaying, it’s more of a rollercoaster – and the feeling of panic and nausea is familiar to those who made it through the Great Recession.

The stage for our survey

Eleven years on and the U.S. is in recession again, ending the longest economic expansion in American history.

Unemployment rates, which were at a 50-year-low, according to the Federal Reserve, skyrocketed to a post-World War 2 record high, and some 20 million jobs have fallen off payrolls since February, following a decade of gains.

After the success of Money Under 30’s earlier survey into Millennials’ financial attitudes, we wanted to find out how young people are faring in the biggest global disruption since their lives have begun.

Enter, stage right, the Millennials.

You might know us for our portrayal in the media as avocado toast aficionados and for our shoebox (rented) apartments in the most expensive cities.

In reality, we are one of the most diverse generations: from the oldest cohort turning the big 4-0, to the youngest, born when Spice Girls were top of the charts (Say You’ll Be There!); almost half (44%) are also people of color, compared to 25% of Baby Boomers and 30% of Gen Xers.

We collected the personal testimonies of tens of Millennials and young Americans (ages 18-39) and surveyed more than two thousand more to find out how their spending habits and financial behaviors were affected by COVID-19.

Life under lockdown

To our generation, battered by two recessions and lacking the financial security of our parents and grandparents, life under lockdown is infinitely more terrifying.

Millennials are economically worse off than the two generations that preceded us: We have more student loan debt but make less money. We have smaller savings and invest less. We own fewer homes, but our rents continue to rise above inflation.

The results are in – and they’re not what you think.

  • Two out of three (65%) of Millennials say the lockdown had a positive effect on their finances
  • 69% spent less money overall, saving on barista-brewed coffee and dinner out (52%), and the Uber home (47% on transportation)
  • And all this, even as boredom (40%) and depression (20%) contributed to a significant uptick in online shopping, both groceries (53%) and non-essential items (56%).

The gender gap

The stereotype may hold that women are bigger shoppers than men, but when it comes to online splurging, all those extra hours at home are pulling on men’s purse strings more – 62.5% of male respondents who work from home spend more on online shopping (not including groceries) compared to 58% of women.

But perhaps women are spending less but worrying more – 64% of women thinking more about their finances now, compared to 57% of men.

Investing is best

And despite – or, more likely, because of the recent peaks and troughs in the stock market, 61% of Millennials think now is a good time to invest, with younger Millennials proving that investing is not an old man’s (or woman’s) game: 70% of under-30s are interested in learning how to invest compared to 55% of those 30-plus.

One in five (20%) are planning to start investing because of the pandemic, with 72% of women interested in learning more about investing (or doubling down on existing investments), compared to 82% of men.

COVID-19 is changing how people work

COVID-19 has also had a dramatic effect on how people work—and Millennials are no different: 68% of those surveyed told us that Corona had affected their job with one in three (33.5%) newly working from home and another third (34%) facing furloughs, reduced hours and/or salary, or job losses because of the pandemic.

But working from home comes with its own economic benefits: 78% of Millennials working from home said their overall outgoings decreased compared to 60% of those working from their regular place of work as higher home spending on electricity, groceries and coffee is offset by extensive savings on transportation and eating out.

Zooming into history

Video conferencing platform Zoom is one of the undisputed winners of the pandemic: the company made $27m in the first quarter and expects sales to double this year with an exponential rise in people working from home, alongside a corresponding surge in family Zoom calls and quarantined lovers’ Zoom dates.

The results of our survey back this up: 48% tried Zoom for the first time during lockdown with younger Millennials being more adventurous (52% of under 30s compared to 42% of over-30s) and those working from home more likely to use the platform (52%) than those working from their usual workplace (45%).

The stories behind the numbers

But statistics only tell part of the picture.

Money Under 30 interviewed a cross-section of Millennials in American society – united by their birth cohort but divided by age, race, sex, location, education, and money.

We spoke to those who lost their jobs and those who have kept them against the odds; Those with a young family to support and those who are supported; those for whom daily struggles are amplified by a life on the edge and those for whom the challenges of lockdown living have bloomed unexpected joys.

Here are their stories.

Reneishia Turner, 35, single mother, Illinois, former GroupOn Travel Sales Support 

“My wheelchair will not stop my landlord from evicting me” – Reneisha Turner

I first realized there was a problem back in December when people wanted to cancel their travel plans, especially to China.

COVID almost killed the company – we had to refund everything and my whole team was let go.

For the five and a half years I worked for GroupOn, I worked from home. As a wheelchair user with no access to a mobility van, you can imagine that makes getting anywhere impossible, which means the jobs available to me right now are very limited.

A mobility van is $115,000, a prohibitive cost, which is why I’ve started a GoFundMe page to try and raise the money. Being able to drive will allow me to apply for better positions.

As a disabled Black woman, I’m a triple minority but my wheelchair will not stop my landlord from evicting me.

I lost my health insurance when I lost my job but if my unemployment benefits are too high, I may not qualify for Medicaid.

The average person receives $1,500 a month on social security but it’s not enough when you live outside an expensive city like Chicago. If I moved somewhere cheaper, I wouldn’t have access to the services I require as a wheelchair user.

My muscular dystrophy puts me at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and suffering more extreme complications, It’s utterly terrifying. I have to be extra careful.

I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to be on a ventilator. I wake up every morning knowing that if I get coronavirus, there is nothing I can do. The one thing I can do is mitigate my exposure.

My 14-year-old daughter went to live with my ex-husband, and we communicate via video chats and texts.

On the plus side, being quarantined before the quarantine was enforced probably saved my life.

When I think ‘Why me?’ I also think ‘Why not me?’ ‘What makes me so special that I don’t need to go through anything?’

All I’ve got to do is keep on putting one wheel in front of the other.

Meagan Turner, 27, Atlanta, full-time graduate student with a husband who works full time   

“Changing from my sleeping pajamas to my daytime pajamas is a gift from lockdown” – Meagan Turner

I’m spending about the same amount of money, just spending it differently. Instead of spending it going out to eat or to events with friends, we have spent money on house projects, learning to cook new meals and hobbies.

I’m paying less attention to my finances because I know my husband and I aren’t both going out to eat for lunches or coffee during the week, and it is a lot easier to track what’s coming in and going out than usual.

Working from home eliminates commuting in Atlanta traffic, which has been amazing! The difficult part of working from home is when my husband and I both need to be on calls at the same time or one of us needs privacy for a call and cannot get it by nature of every other place being shut down or having reduced capacity. Changing from my sleeping pajamas to my daytime pajamas, instead of professional work clothes, and back is a gift from lockdown though!

I actually picked up a job during the lockdown as a virtual assistant because, without commuting, and with classes transitioning online, I have more free time on my hands than I normally do.

I am investing in stocks that have tanked because of the coronavirus but that are industry leaders, which have a good chance of bouncing back and giving a return on my investment. Investing now is also a way to help stimulate the economy while I can’t travel or go to restaurants.

Josh Vannostrand, 38, Single father of two, Unemployed, New Hampshire

“The pandemic chewed me up and spit me out” – Josh Vannostrand

I lost my job two weeks into the pandemic when my old boss went to be with his mother who was dying with COVID-19. I worked as an odd-jobs man for six years, working 50-60-hour weeks and earning enough to support my two daughters – and then suddenly nothing. A week later my car wouldn’t start and I didn’t have the money to collect it from the garage.

How can I get a job without a car? And how can I get my car without a job?

I’m a motivated, hard-working person but it’s like I’m digging a hole and it keeps filling up behind me.

The stress is suffocating me, making it hard to keep a straight face and be the best dad I can be.

I don’t know what I will say to my girls when the power goes off, when we lose our home.

I’m the last man to reach out for help. The last thing I want to do is ask for money but the pandemic chewed me up and spit me out.

I’m doing my best to stay positive and continue to fight this battle but I must admit, I am weak, I’m losing steam and I’m afraid of what the future might hold for us. I just want to be happy again. I want to be working again, I want to go back to the life we had prior to the pandemic when bills were getting paid and everything was fine.

Kayleigh Duggan, 31, Senior Marketing Client Manager, ThoughtLab

“My wallet is enjoying the slower side of life right now” – Kayleigh Duggan

I am currently fully employed and working from home. Overall, I am saving a little more money than I was pre-COVID, but I could be saving more.

While I am saving by not visiting bars and restaurants every weekend, I am finding myself doing more online shopping and spending way more on groceries. As someone who usually cooks most of my meals at home, I am used to spending a pretty penny on food but these days it seems like I am constantly stocking up on necessities, quarantine snacks, and of course, copious amounts of wine.

I have been benefitting from lower interest rates on credit cards but have been continuing to pay my student loans, car payment, credit card payments, etc. so as to not increase the time it takes me to pay them off post-virus. All-in-all, my wallet is enjoying the slower side of life right now.

Jasmine Jackson, 32, Publicist, Founder, JSquaredSolution 

“A Need to Feel Normal: The only new expense that I plan to be permanent is therapy.” – Jasmine Jackson

As a 32-year old single woman, with no children, amid the global pandemic, my finances have almost inevitably taken a turn. Like most educators in this country, I was forced to teach virtually and complete all my work within my home. I was spending less money on gas, but more money on food, utilities, toiletries, beauty products, entertainment, and mental health remedies. The expenses that increased are mostly related to a need to feel normal.

Frequent visits to Target and other essential retailers somehow created a self-care need during the quarantine. Going to these stores cultivated a sense of normalcy so it became an everyday habit.

I found myself needing these things as opposed to wanting them to stay afloat.

Sitting in the house alone took a massive mental toll on me and I started to feel depressed.

For weeks, I consumed foods from any curb-side restaurant I had an appetite for – no matter the cost. The delicious foods brought comfort to my loneliness, but it was temporary.

Every day, I had the same void. Electricity and water fees inflated because I was spending more time at home using lights, watching television, working on my laptop, cooking, blasting the A/C.

Everything from skin masks to nail products to hair masks and conditioners were included in my new budget. For entertainment, I binged Netflix and Hulu shows or blasted my music on my Samsung 55’ TV screen or Bluetooth speaker. I even purchased subscriptions to HBO and Starz to have more variety.

Other sources of entertainment I’ve indulged in include virtual happy hours in Meetup, Zoom, Facebook, and Instagram Lives.

The constant “need” to be occupied with these things had a connection to the elevating costs.

Realizing that none of my new habits were benefiting me financially, physically or mentally, eventually led me to do something I’ve avoided: undergoing therapy.

For years I knew I should seek a therapist, but my busy schedule was always a crutch for an excuse. Now, that I had all the time in the world I was forced to face myself and the suppressed trauma from my childhood and adult relationships.

After going back and forth with myself for weeks, I finally did it.

A friend referred me to a female therapist, and, after our consultation, I began “seeing” her bi-weekly. The sessions are via video chat, but she has been able to help me sort through and unpack the negative thoughts I began to have from being alone. We are now in the fourth session and things have dramatically improved for me. Now that businesses are starting to reopen, and a sense of normalcy is resuming, the only new expense that I plan to be permanent is receiving therapy.

Michael Lowe, CEO of carpassionate.com

“I’m saving hundreds of dollars a month – I’m a changed man” – Michael Lowe

Although the times are uncertain, I am grateful for the opportunity that the pandemic has given me to look at my finances more carefully. I am currently saving hundreds of dollars a month because my spending habits were so outrageous. For example, morning coffee on the way to the office would cost me $20-$25 a week. That’s $100 a month! I have realized that there are more things to life than just a takeaway coffee or a new phone every year.

I believe that spending the time and money with your family on experiences and making memories rather than materialistic goods. It’s like I’m a changed man!

Michael James Nuells, 32, Toluca Lake, CA actor, model, former-special events manager, Disney

“Stay positive or get lost in the shuffle: my entire financial focus has shifted” – Michael James Nuell

Due to COVID-19, my world has completely flipped upside down, and my spending habits have DRASTICALLY changed! Just three months ago, I was living my best life and thriving at Disney. I had wonderful gigs in place, was making great money, and enjoyed splurging on ME in every way possible, while staying focused and hardworking to pay off my car and student loans!

Now, my entire financial focus has shifted due to these unfortunate circumstances. Sadly, my contract was cut with Disney during the most recent layoffs with the company, most of my other gigs were canceled, and I’ve been required to live off my savings the last few months.

Because of this, the rate in which I planned to pay off my car and student loans has halted! I can no longer double up on these payments to have either of them paid off as soon as this year, nor can I now stick to my former routines of facials and mani/pedis every two weeks, shopping online and in-store and private fitness classes multiple times a week. THOSE days are over for the foreseeable future!

I’m sad because everything literally changed overnight for me, and I’ve had to adjust accordingly and stay positive or get lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, my parents taught me well, and I learned the most important techniques on savings & budgeting!

What I’ve learned about my spending habits during this time is that I`m a strong, capable, and responsible man. I seriously don’t think I would have survived these last few months living off savings had I not been doing well before we entered this pandemic.

Due to living off of my savings, my priorities have shifted, in which my main focuses now are making sure bills are all paid (some only the minimum balances at this time), I make sure to cook at home as much as possible to avoid overspending on takeout & delivery, and my spending on travel/road trips, health and beauty routines, fitness classes, training sessions, live events and concerts, have all but ceased.

I’m trying not to spend any additional money on non-essentials. I’m praying that, soon enough, I’ll be able to get my groove back and my finances in top order with a steady stream of income.

Jeff K. Neal, 35, The Critter Depot

“The only thing I’m buying is Bitcoin” – Jeff K. Neal

I’m your prototypical, side-hustling millennial that sells roaches on the side to reptile owners! The only thing I’m buying right now is bitcoin.  U.S. Bonds have a negative yield, the Fed is handing out free money by the trillions, and over 40 million people are unemployed.

It’s a bleak picture, but it’s also reality.  And since bitcoin is deflationary, it’s a great hedge against the current market.

Jennifer Walden, Director of Operations, WikiLawn Lawn Care

“We’re not taking any chances. I doubt our marriage would survive if one of us was irresponsible with money.” – Jennifer Walden

I’m fortunate in that neither my husband nor I have lost our jobs. My husband is an emergency physician (which is a whole other struggle these days) and I’m the Director of Operations for WikiLawn.

We’ve always been quite frugal, which is something I’m grateful we’ve been aligned on since we met. I doubt our marriage would survive if one of us was irresponsible with money. He’s in so much debt from medical school and we’ve accumulated debt as a couple to be able to have a home and vehicles, so indiscriminate spending would be devastating.

That’s doubly true now. The company I work for was very much affected by the pandemic, and we’ve lived with the knowledge that my husband could easily get sick and be out of commission for a long time. Our income sources could dry up, so we’ve cut back expenses as much as possible. Lockdown has meant cooking from home more, which obviously slashes the takeout budget. But we’ve cut out non-essential subscriptions and have tried to spend less each time we go to the grocery store.

We also refinanced our home recently and may negotiate for a lower monthly payment on our car payments, depending on how things go. We’re not taking any chances. Like many our age, we have very little in the way of savings and a big emergency would ruin us.

Leif Kristjansen, 33, married father of two, founder of Five Year Fire Escape 

“COVID-19 has been a trial run to see how many things I can live without” – Leif Kristjansen

As my wife and I blog about our retirement from a corporate 9-5 in our early 30s, COVID-19 has been a trial run to see how many things I can live without.

We have two kids and a house in a high cost of living city but we succeeded via saving and lots of rental houses.

Dinner out has been entirely cut-off, but I have become a stellar home cook.

Social outings are down as well but I’ve come to realize I don’t miss them as much as I thought I would. Basically, all the things that I self-identify as liking due to being a Millennial, I’ve become fine with not having.

Much to my surprise, what I have discovered I really am yearning for right now is a house with a big yard. I could get up to all sorts of hobbies there. My parents wanted that and I never thought I would. Yet here I am.

 

If you are affected by any of these personal accounts or have a story to share, we’d love to hear from you.  Please reach out to us on Twitter or email us at editor@moneyunder30.com with “Lockdown Stories” as the subject line.

About the author

Rebecca Greig picture
Total Articles: 5
Rebecca Greig is the managing editor of a number of personal finance and investing titles including Money Under 30, Dough Roller and Consumerism Commentary. Following a degree in politics from Cambridge University and a Masters in journalism, she has worked across TV and print, including the BBC, Al Jazeera English, Newsweek and reported from Mongolia, Nepal, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Follow Rebecca on Twitter.

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1 comment
Hannah Solemani says:

Such a powerful and important article