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Consumers Set to Spend Big (and Take On Debt) As Pandemic Restrictions Ease

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With more than 100 million Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, pandemic restrictions are starting to loosen up around the country. And as activities make a comeback, such as traveling and in-person dining, many consumers are ready to splash out with big spending, even if it means going into debt.

A new LendingTree survey found that nearly one in two adults say they may take on debt due to increased spending this summer. Plans for post-pandemic sprees range from nights out at a local bar to new wardrobes and preparations to return to the office or work site.

Key findings

  • Nearly half of all respondents (47%) said it’s at least somewhat likely they’ll go into debt this summer, as the loosening of pandemic restrictions prompts more spending. (Read more)
  • Travel may eat up much of Americans’ post-pandemic budget (with more than one-third citing travel plans), followed by new clothes. (Read more)
  • Those who work remotely expect to spend more as they return to normal, with an 83% majority of that group saying they have purchased or plan to purchase something new for their return to onsite work. (Read more)
  • More than 1 in 3 respondents expect to spend more on fitness post-pandemic, though the ways they work out may have changed. (Read more)
  • Although spending on in-person dining will likely increase which this summer, the rise may not be as substantial as some think. A majority expect to spend more on in-person dining, most will only do so by about 25% to 50%. (Read more)

Americans predict going into debt this summer

While Americans are excited to get out and about, they know that a summer of spending could translate into debt.

Almost half of all respondents (47%) said they were at least somewhat likely to go into debt this summer to finance their post-pandemic lifestyle, whether via credit card debt, taking out a personal loan or something else.

In total, 21% said they’re “very likely” to incur debt, and 26% said they’re “somewhat likely.”

Gen Zers and millennials were especially likely to say they expected to go into debt. In both groups, 61% said they expected to borrow, as opposed to 51% of Gen Xers and just 17% of baby boomers.

Trips, clothes and restaurants

Shopping plans may vary widely as the pandemic lifts, but there are definitely some popular themes. In particular, Americans expect travel to eat up a large part of their budget.

Clothing and restaurant means round out the top 3, though as we’ll see later, the rush to eat out may be a little more restrained than some expect. Specifically, here’s what people predict they’ll spend the most money on:

  • Travel (36%)
  • New clothes (24%)
  • Dining out (18% — see below for more details)
  • Other (10%)
  • Events such as concerts (8%)
  • Bars or breweries (3%)

Returning to the workplace could spike expenses

Those who previously worked on-site (rather than from home) also expect their spending to increase as they head back to in-person work. Among such respondents, 83% have purchased (or plan to purchase) something new for their return from working remotely.

On average, they intend to spend $747 on purchases including new outfits, shoes and decor. The most popular items were:

  • New clothes (59%)
  • New shoes (41%)
  • New accessories (27%)
  • New office decor or supplies (16%)
  • New makeup (13% overall / 23% of women)

While going back into the workplace might spike expenses, many employees expect to do at least some of their job from home. Prior to the pandemic, 37% of employed individuals worked on-site five or more days a week, but only 24% plan to do so post-pandemic.

Employees seem better equipped to do their jobs from home, considering those who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic spent, on average, $852 on their work-from-home setup (and that’s not including anything that was reimbursed by their employer).

Spending on fitness could ramp up

More than one-third of consumers (37%) expect to spend more on fitness after the pandemic. This was more true for men (49%) than for women (27%).

Our survey found that 28% of consumers said they had paused or canceled a gym or fitness membership during the pandemic. Of that group, 67% plan to resume their membership.

However, not everyone is rushing back to the gym. In fact, some prefer to continue with their at-home workouts and digital fitness subscriptions.

Among respondents, 29% purchased at-home workout equipment, spending an average of $908. Of that group, 66% don’t plan on returning to the gym now that they’ve spent money on their own fitness gear.

And 15% subscribed to a new digital fitness program or app, with 62% of them planning to continue their subscription, regardless of whether they’re able to return to in-person workouts.

Spending on in-person dining likely to rise … somewhat

As noted above, dining out was the third-biggest category for summer spending after travel and new clothes, with 61% planning to eat out more this summer.

Given that in-restaurant dining almost vanished completely during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, you might think that spending for this category is set to explode, with manifold increases across the board.

However, the rise may be moderate in size, at least to begin with, as 39% of those surveyed don’t intend to eat out more once the pandemic has passed.

At the same time, 31% plan to spend just 25% more on restaurant food, while 20% will up their spending by an estimated 50%. Only 4% of respondents expected to double their spending on eating out.

Track your spending in the coming months

There’s bound to be a lot of temptation to spend money in the months ahead, as restrictions loosen around the coronavirus pandemic. While you might be ready to make up for lost time, be careful not to blow past your budget.

Take a look at your income and expenses so that you have a clear idea of what you’re working with from month to month. It can help to use an expense-tracking app or a simple spreadsheet to take control of your personal finances.

If you’re considering a personal loan to finance a big expense, make sure to shop around for the lowest rate. Do the math before you borrow to ensure you have the means to pay back your debt on time without putting a big strain on your finances.

Methodology:

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to field an online survey of 2,192 Americans; it was conducted April 8-15, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.

 

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