How my spending habits have changed during the pandemic

pandemic spending habits toilet roll

The last year or so of the coronavirus pandemic has been full of changes and challenges, and as a result there’s been a huge change in my behaviours and particularly my spending habits. I was one of the lucky people to get an early surplus vaccination in March and have since had my second jab, and although I’m making tentative steps towards getting back out there I think I’ll be hanging on to quite a few of my new choices.

Lessons learned in lockdown

It was very much about switching into survival mode at the start of the pandemic, and staying there for a good while. When the news is overwhelming, it’s often helpful to screen out the extra noise and focus on making sure that the basics are covered, and I found it easier to concentrate mainly on what was most urgent and important (with maybe just a teeny tiny bit of brain space left over for creature comforts). If anyone ever needed a reminder of how to prioritise wants over needs, this was a prime opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the process.

I was relieved that we had the basics for everyday living covered when we had to do two rounds of self-isolating, and that was down to a few simple household management routines we already have in place more than anything else, plus a bit of luck. I know very well what we get through in an average week, from shampoo to loo roll to apples, and tend to keep things topped up in advance anyway, plus we always have things like paracetamol and tinned soup stocked up in the winter in case we get hit by the usual cold and flu season and don’t feel up to going out to the shops.

Shopping less frequently quickly became a new pattern for our household, given the amount of coughing, sneezing and lack of mask wearing by a significant minority of people in our local shops. Instead of nipping out for milk or whatever here and there we switched to once-a-week grocery shop to reduce contact and generally save hassle. The Big Shop was back with a vengeance! If it wasn’t on the shopping list we did without it, apart from prescription medicines.

Other shopping pretty much went by the wayside when the non-essential shops had to close, although I have had to make a few replacement-basis purchases. For example, I wore my favourite pair of trainers so much on lockdown keep-fit walks that I ended up with a non-repairable hole in one of the soles, so I picked up a similar new pair in the online sales.

I’ve actually quite enjoyed shopping less, and being much more discerning about what to buy and when. As more and more people in the UK are being vaccinated I can feel my thought patterns turning towards the future and making bigger plans – but the extra-thoughtful way of shopping is here to stay.

pandemic spending habits mask

Food and drink spending

We booked online deliveries where possible, once the shielding customers had been given their priority delivery slots, and it’s made me even more careful to create proper shopping lists, write out menus, check shelves and cupboards, and use things up. This needs buy-in from everyone in the household, especially keeping the shopping list updated, so you don’t run out of anything important at the wrong moment.

Some fine-tuning was required to fit around more people working from home – who knew you’d get through so many snacks in a week? Who knew how much we’d start craving comfort food?

There were a few temporary food shortages too. While these were generically blamed on ‘panic buyers’ and ‘hoarders’, it was a lot more complex than that. People were eating many more meals at home, and they needed to prepare to self-isolate if they became ill or came into contact with someone with coronavirus – we all had to put more in our grocery baskets and it took a while for the logistics to be ironed out. Meanwhile, the pandemic had huge effects on factories, farming, shipping and lorries, adding supply problems on top of the increased demands. While we aren’t entirely stoics at heart in this household, we decided to improvise with what we could get and try not to think about it too much (not ideal for people who love their food, but we managed fine).

Our weekly shopping baskets are costing us more, partly due to buying more food than before and partly because prices have risen. The budget own-brands seem harder to find, and some have been re-branded and altered with a price jump thrown in. Multi-buys have been less frequent too, but we’re still finding the occasional discount.

While we’re no strangers to home cooking here, I started cooking more complex meals from scratch and looking for interesting new recipes to try. That wasn’t always easy because you couldn’t guarantee being able to source all the ingredients you wanted, but it was usually okay in the end with just one or two items switched about. That was probably a response to being a big city dweller who couldn’t go out to a new place for lunch or dinner any more, what with the hospitality shutdown and all that. Anyways, it worked out cheaper and healthier than buying ready meals and takeaways, so let’s call that a win.

Speaking of takeaways, we did get a few here and there, but they were all from local businesses rather than generic chains. We knew the pandemic wouldn’t last forever, and we wanted to spend our small-ish budget with nearby companies to help them survive financially, so they’d still be with us after lockdown. Yes, I make a mean homemade pizza, but the excellent family-run Italian restaurant up the road from us pivoted to doing takeaway wood-fired pizzas to stay afloat and, er, rude not to, right?

On the drinks side of things, we’ve been having less and less alcohol in a bid to stay healthy. Stress-drinking is an understandable reaction to everything that’s been going on in the world, but it just doesn’t work for us personally. Beau’s now so good at making coffee at home that he puts our local cafes to shame, which makes takeaway and drink-in coffees a bit redundant. We’re spending a bit more on those sweet sweet coffee beans but the total spend is way down. I’ve been exploring more non-alcoholic and low alcohol drinks as well, so expect to hear more about those soon.

pandemic spending habits coffee and research

Fashion and beauty

Ha ha ha ha ha. The nation has been in a style and glamour vortex for months on end, and I’m at least partly here for it. While I didn’t wear pyjamas all day every day apart from a short period of being poorly, I do see why it would appeal to many people. Personally though, I find it very demotivating and a bit of a downer, so I preferred to keep it comfortable but somewhat above the saggy-sportswear-and-Uggs line. If you caught me wearing tracksuit bottoms, I was planning on doing a workout or a hike, or some DIY or gardening. I did ditch the heels though, and haven’t missed them even a teeny tiny bit. Smart trainers and flats all the way.

No need for new workwear or going out clothes, no window shopping, no PR parties, no way to go into a shop and try on different sizes, no getting colour-matched at the makeup counter, no spraying tester bottles of perfume. Saved a packet, even if we did have to invest in a few washable facemasks. However, I found facemasks to be pretty much incompatible with foundation, lipstick and most earrings so I didn’t buy any of those either.

I cut my own hair a few times during lockdown, and might actually¬† be one of the few Brits who cut a lockdown fringe and didn’t regret it. We have a home hairdressing kit in the house and I used to do my own hair during my student days to save a few quid, so it was a case of remembering the basics, taking it slow and steady, and not lopping too much off in one go. Nothing like going to a skilled hairdresser who has fancy shampoos and the added advantage of being able to see behind your head, but needs must.

Like many other people in the UK, I ended up spending more on skincare, mainly because mask-wearing irritated my face something shocking and hand sanitiser dried out my mitts. Manicure? Forget about it. I’ll write more about that another time because I found some excellent new products and retailers while all that was going on.

Other spending

Am I the only person who didn’t paint and decorate during the hard lockdowns? I couldn’t face being stuck at home while there was drying paint everywhere, stinking the place out and giving everyone a headache (the paint, not me). My lockdowns were more about cleaning, tidying and decluttering, which cost a lot less and meant I didn’t have to spend hours on end in a B&Q/Homebase/Wickes hell-queue.

We replaced some worn-out bedlinens in the sales, bought a few bits and bobs to improve the home office set-ups, replaced the printer ink more frequently, and tried to make our garden a nicer place to hang out in. I also moved a blanket onto the sofa because I thought we might as well get cosy and comfy if we were going to be stuck at home for what seemed to be shaping up for a good long while.

Learning to love TV has been a new one for me, but we needed something cheap and cheerful to do if we were going to be stuck at home every night. It’s been mostly fun, but I must confess that I’m getting square eyes now and have probably run out of box sets to plough through.

Our vastly reduced socialising and entertainment budget came in handy when we needed emergency fence repairs and building work doing recently, on top of renovating the garden. But that’s an expensive story for another time…

pandemic spending habits get vaccinated

Looking ahead

Like many people, my spending habits had started to change before the pandemic, but the coronavirus situation has accelerated this process for me. I’m shopping less frequently, and thinking a lot more about my purchases and the impact they might have locally and globally.

I’m more and more interested in cruelty-free and ethical brands, I’m enjoying learning more about sustainability and environmentally-friendly processes, and I’m making a point of shopping more locally with independent businesses. Expect a few more of these on the blog soon. My love for reducing, re-using and recycling continues, along with the store cupboard and capsule wardrobe obsessions which won’t be fading any time soon – some things have changed drastically but some of the old favourites are still going strong.


How has the pandemic changed your spending habits? Has anything changed for the worse, or for the better?


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One Comment

  1. I think the main change for me is that I became even more conscious of what I was about to spend. I’ve always budgeted and tracked but it was that thinking just before I spent (especially on-line) which developed.
    I was a priority customer for on-line slots but I was very conscious that was a privilege and I tried to plan my shopping and have a slot only once a fortnight so I planned much better and used everything up – my food waste has decreased and I wasn’t bad before.
    And I’ve been surprised how little I missed eating out. I was a great fan of pensioners’ lunches to meet up with friends and I just don’t want to resume that at all yet and I think it will be less frequent in the future.

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