Americans prefer to save until an effective vaccine is available, study finds

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Many consumers are pinning their spending decisions on how well their local area responds to COVID-19

Has the coronavirus pandemic made you a saver or a spender? If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably stashing some of your cash away until an effective vaccine is found and the all-clear is sounded.

A new study by Gallup -- taken after the personal benefits from the CARES Act expired -- shows that 54 percent of Americans are currently saving at least some of their money and plan to continue saving versus spending what they have in the near future.

Among the people who have the ability to save, 76 percent plan to keep adding to their savings accounts in the next six months. Another 28 percent say they’ll spend their money on basic goods and services, 13 percent will splurge a bit on vacation or travel, and 10 percent will use their savings to pay off debts.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents said that rather than doing speculative investing in the stock market or real estate, or making IRA contributions, they’re tucking their money away in either their checking or savings accounts.  

The potential impact of a vaccine

Since it’s anyone’s guess as to when a viable vaccine will make it to market -- much less one that people will take -- predicting the impact of that turn of events isn’t easy to gauge. However, Gallup tried to get as close to a possible scenario as possible by asking respondents to assess the impact that six potential COVID-19 advancements might have on their willingness to return to their “normal,” pre-pandemic spending level. 

Those advancements include the development of a vaccine, personally receiving a vaccine, having an effective treatment for COVID-19, seeing a reduction in cases of the disease or deaths from it, and having extra capacity at hospitals.

“An effective COVID-19 vaccine ranks as most influential to Americans when they think about resuming their normal spending,” theorized Gallup’s Paul Berg and Megan Brenan. 

“About seven in 10 say the development of such a vaccine would have a minor or major impact on their willingness to start spending regularly. Receiving an effective vaccine would have about the same impact.”

Wait and see

An interesting hyperlocal angle showed up in Gallup’s research; the researchers found that 60 percent of U.S. adults who say that having no more than 10 COVID-19 cases and zero related deaths in their local area for a two-week period would affect their spending. 

“Having effective treatments or sharply reduced infection rates will provide some comfort to citizens, but not to the same degree as a vaccine,” Berg and Brenan said. “Until then, a majority of Americans plan to moderate their overall spending compared with pre-pandemic levels, which means unemployment and underemployment are likely to persist at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.”

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