by Danielle Nelson

COVID-19 Spending Trends: What the Data Reflects About Our Feelings

If you find that your spending habits have changed during COVID-19, you’re not alone! Data scientist Danielle Nelson digs into the data on how Simple customers are using their money lately—and what that shows us about the feelings we’re all experiencing right now.
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The world feels pretty scary for most of us right now. I for one am feeling all sorts of things—from anger and sadness and fear…to weird moments of joy that I get to spend so much time with my dog Charlie and my husband Kevin… then back to fear and worry over the health of my two older parents in Chicago, where I can’t get to them. It’s a lot of feelings.

Being a data scientist means that just about everything is data to me—even feelings (especially feelings, sometimes!). I wish we at Simple could hear from each and every one of you about how you’re feeling right now. But since that’s not practical, I set out to see if I could uncover some clues about how our customers are feeling based on how you’re using Simple in this strange and disorienting time. The answers probably won’t surprise you, but I hope these insights will give you some comfort in knowing that lots of people are feeling how you are, and that you’re not alone in how the pandemic is affecting how you spend money.

What you spend your money on has changed

covid-19 spending - food & drink

If you’re like most Simple customers, the kinds of things you buy have changed a lot lately. The data shows that the number of transactions spent on Food & Drink has decreased dramatically over the past few weeks—down almost 55% between February 24 and April 6. This makes a ton of sense: restaurants and bars are closing to protect their employees and communities.

covid groceries

Even the number of transactions on Groceries has taken a hit. But interestingly, the average amount spent per transaction has increased as much as 35%. Way to stock those carts full and make fewer trips to the grocery store, Simple customers!

You’re traveling less

Of course you are! Not many people are hopping on airplanes right now.

covid-19 transportation copy

There was a 65% decrease in the number of transportation transactions between February 24 and April 6.

But Simple customers are also spending less on just getting around town: buying gas less frequently and using ridesharing and taxi services less often. While that’s unnerving for those of you whose livelihoods depend on transportation, there’s a small silver lining: Carbon emissions may be lower during this time. And, perhaps more importantly, seeing the environmental impact of driving less might inspire people to get more serious about reducing their carbon footprints after COVID-19, which might make for lower emissions longer-term.

You’re using less cash

covid-19 atms

ATM withdrawals are down almost 50% between February 24 and April 6. This makes a ton of sense—cash is not the cleanest thing in the world, and neither are ATMs. And of course, with so many physical stores closed, cash isn’t even an option for many transactions.

You haven’t started drawing from your emergency funds—yet

The total amount of money in Emergency Funds saved in Simple Accounts hasn’t declined, nor has the number of withdrawals from those funds increased. But I expect that to change as the economics of COVID-19 continue to play out.

In case you need to hear it: This situation is why you have an Emergency Fund. Don’t feel bad if you need to use it! And if you are still earning income, now’s a great time to put the money you would be using on, say, restaurants, toward your Emergency Fund (or start one by opening a Protected Goals Account if you haven’t yet—here’s a handy guide).

Charitable giving is staying relatively consistent

Right now, the number of transactions categorized as Charities has not changed its trend from pre-COVID-19 days. We actually saw a small spike in charitable giving the week of March 2! As hard as it is to prioritize giving right now, it’s nice to see a signal like this in the data, as it really speaks to the generosity of our awesome Simple customers.

You’re still saving, even through uncertainty

Despite all the uncertainty out there, Simple customers are still putting away money as much as possible. The amounts might be smaller, but there’s no indication that you’ve stopped putting money into your Protected Goals Accounts. In fact, we’ve seen more of you turn on Round-up Rules in the past few weeks than ever before, which is a great way to stash away spare change if saving a larger amount feels like too much right now.

Our shared humanity is in the data

  • Summary of changes to Simple customers’ spending habits 2/24–4/6:
  • Food & Drink: transactions decreased almost 55%
  • Groceries: fewer transactions, but amount spent per transaction increased 35%
  • Transportation: transactions decreased 65%
  • ATM withdrawals: decreased almost 50%

All of this goes to show, in my opinion, that our spending behaviors reflect our feelings: uncertain, changing, adapting to the new reality. But knowing that these spending trends are happening on a large scale shows me that we’re all in this together (but at least six feet apart).

We’ll be continuing to share info and tips to help you navigate whatever financial situation you’re in during this time, and all of us here at Simple are working remotely to stay safe and make sure you have the resources you need to manage your money. If you have questions or need help, feel free to reach out with a support message—you’ll always get a response from a real, friendly human.

See how COVID-19 has changed how we save!
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Danielle is a data scientist on Simple’s Analytics team.
She loves data of all kinds and once wrote a deep writing algorithm for climbing route names for fun. When she’s not at work, she enjoys watercolor painting, hiking, climbing, and mountain biking (when social distancing is not in place) around the Pacific Northwest with her husband Kevin and dog Charlotte (Charlie), a 15-pound dachshund-schnauzer mix who looks forward to hanging out in the office again soon.


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