10 things Americans have spent less money on during the pandemic


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Americans’ spending fell 2.7% in 2020. American households spent an average of $61,334 — compared to $63,036 the year before, according to new federal data.

This drop in spending came even though our earnings were 1.8% higher (before taxes) on average, and inflation was up 1.2%.

You can probably guess, from your own experience, one big reason behind the spending cutback: the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Requests to stay at home have impacted expenditures on retail outlets, entertainment venues and even transportation providers, as those working from home have stopped commuting.”

However, you might be surprised at some of the other things Americans spend less on.

Below, based on the latest consumer spending data from the BLS, are some of the spending categories in which the decline in spending was the largest.

education

A student in a face mask raises his hand
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Average Household Expenditure:

Spending on education fell by about 12% in that first calendar year for the pandemic. This category includes spending on textbooks, fees, tuition, equipment, and supplies for all levels of education, from nursery schools to universities.

medical services

A doctor looking at X-rays or other imaging tests
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $984
  • 2020: $864 (down 12.2%)

Spending in this area includes hospital rooms and hospital services, and services performed by doctors and other professionals – for example, dental care, eye care, lab tests, and X-rays. Medical care provided in retirement communities and convalescent or hospice care homes is also included.

Of course, spending varies by age. Families headed by someone age 65 or older tend to spend more on medical costs than younger families, as we detail in This Is How Much Retirees Families Spend in a Year.

medical supplies

Elderly woman putting her hands on a walking stick
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $194
  • 2020: $170 (12.4% decrease)

The medical supplies category is a large bucket that includes products such as bandages, dressings, topical treatments, disinfectants, first aid kits, syringes, contraceptives, ice packs, heating pads, sun lamps, and thermometers. Also in this bucket of expenses: medical “devices” (such as crutches, braces, canes, walkers, hearing aids and glasses) and rental and repair of medical equipment.

alcoholic beverages

Friends drinking alcohol at a party
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $579
  • 2020: $478 (down 17.4%)

Household spending on alcoholic beverages overall declined by 17.4% in 2020. This reduction in spending, the BLS says, has led to a 43.9% reduction in money spent on alcohol consumed away from home specifically.

At the same time, spending on alcoholic beverages at home rose by 4.5%.

personal care

The father brushes his teeth
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $786
  • 2020: $646 (down 17.8%)

Personal care includes services and products related to, for example, hair care, dental care, shaving and bathing.

To help cut your personal grooming expenses, you may want to check out How I Save $96 on Hair Cutting and Coloring.

Clothing and apparel services

man working from home
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $883
  • 2020: $1,434 (down 23.8%)

Clothing and related services, such as alterations and dry cleaning, are one of the largest spending categories, along with food, housing, health care, and transportation.

In 2020, the individual items in this category that saw the biggest decline were men’s and boys’ apparel (down 27.1%) and footwear (down 25.1%).

Gasoline, diesel fuel and motor oils

Traffic highways in Omaha, Nebraska
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $2,094
  • 2020: $1,568 (down 25.1%)

In early 2021, data analytics firm Kayrros analyzed numbers related to human mobility and fuel consumption in the United States during the pandemic. Kayrros reported a “sharp drop of nearly 40% in total miles traveled in March 2020 following initial lockdown measures.” Mileage levels have almost fully recovered by early 2021.

eating outside

Restaurant server with digital menu
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $3,526
  • 2020: $2,375 (down 32.6%)

The category includes money spent on meals and snacks outside the home, including non-alcoholic drinks and tips. This includes spending on fast food, takeout and delivery as well as at buffets, cafeterias, concession counters, full service restaurants, vending machines and mobile food vendors.

As you might expect in 2020, spending on food eaten at home rose 6.4%.

Fees and admissions

Elegant Stadium
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: 880 dollars
  • 2020: $425 (down 51.7%)

Spending fell on this category, which includes fees and admission to sporting events, movies, concerts and plays, as well as membership fees for health, swimming, tennis and country clubs. It also includes fees collected by social, fraternal, and recreational organizations, and the costs of movie rentals, lessons, and entertainment instructions.

Public transportation and more

A man wearing a mask on public transport
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Average Household Expenditure:

  • 2019: $781
  • 2020: $263 (down 66.3%)

This category includes rates for mass transit, trains, airlines, buses, taxis, boats, and even school buses that are charged.

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