Poll shows Americans plan to be more frugal after the pandemic

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The survey shows an increase in the number of people adopting household budgets

Personal finance experts are no doubt heartened by the emerging body of research suggesting the year-long coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has altered the way consumers look at their finances.

The latest encouraging study comes from Coinstar, which operates change machines in high-traffic retail locations. It found that 76 percent of respondents now have a household budget, and 74 percent are likely to set aside funds in an emergency budget – apart from general savings.

In 2019, a Debt.com poll found just 67 percent of respondents were on a household budget.

The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic was likely highly motivating for many people when it comes to their finances. Some were forced to make sacrifices because of a loss of income. Others cut back because they were worried about their jobs. Nearly everyone spent less because there were fewer places to spend it.

Remaining frugal

Now that the pandemic clouds are beginning to lift, the natural inclination might be to spend more, and some people undoubtedly will. But the Coinstar survey found 46 percent of consumers said they plan to stay on a fairly tight budget.

When consumers do treat themselves, the survey suggests restaurants and hotels will benefit. Nearly half -- 47 percent -- plan to dine out more frequently. An equal percentage plans to take a summer vacation.

The pressure to spend more will surely be around once movie theaters and restaurants return to full capacity. But at least a significant number of people have the intention of maintaining their more frugal ways. Of those who do plan to splurge, fewer than 20 percent held back during the height of the pandemic but are now ready to open their pocketbooks.

Of those who plan to improve their financial situation in 2021, 43 percent said they will cut back on discretionary spending, 31 percent plan to sell personal items, and 27 percent say they will take on an additional job. 

Personal finance experts suggest the first step, aside from establishing a household budget, is to put away some money in case of an unexpected expense, such as a car or home repair. A 2019 GoBankingRates survey found 70 percent of Americans had less than $1,000 in savings.

In June, as the economic impact of the pandemic was spreading across the country, a Harris Poll found one-third of homeowners have less than $500 in an emergency account.

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