10,000 Home Cooks Told Us How Their Money & Budgets Have Changed During the Pandemic
When it comes to money, most of us prefer to keep things pretty hush-hush. We’ve been taught that discussing money is rude, tacky, and taboo; and that it’s best to keep financial matters on the down-low at all costs (pun intended). The thing is, we should be talking about money a whole lot more — especially during this global pandemic, which has completely upended the lives, routines, systems, and, in many cases, safety nets that we once knew.
At Kitchn, we know all too well how money affects the way we shop, meal plan, eat, and live — and that’s something we care about deeply. So we thought we’d start the conversation. We talked to more than 10,000 Kitchn readers about how things have changed financially since early March. Here’s what we learned.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent. While that’s down from April’s record high of 14.7 percent, experts report that U.S. jobless claims remain “staggeringly high.” Unfortunately, the results from Kitchn’s survey are not too far off from the official figure (albeit a bit higher). Approximately 10 percent of Kitchn’s survey respondents reported that they lost their jobs due to the pandemic, while another 13 percent reported being furloughed or having their hours reduced.
The pandemic has impacted people in markedly different ways, but across the board it has altered people’s finances. While 61 percent of Kitchn’s survey respondents are operating on the same budget as they were during pre-pandemic days, a whopping 30 percent of respondents reported making less money. Not the majority, no, but that’s still a lot of people!
If you’re doing the math, that 30 percent is more than the 23 percent who lost their jobs or had their hours cut, which just goes to show how fickle income can be! (Somehow, 9 percent of respondents are in an even better financial position than they were back in March.)
This might not surprise you, but 48 percent of our survey respondents are now spending more money on groceries than they were back in March. This makes sense, given that a majority of the country has been hunkered down at home, with 42 states enacting stay-at-home orders at some point in time during the past seven months. Naturally, being at home more leads to cooking at home more. (A not unrelated fact: We saw an increase of traffic to our site for classic recipes like banana bread, sourdough, and baked potatoes.) Of course, when we have to cook more at home, we spend more on groceries.
One reader said: “We used to eat out many nights. We don’t anymore and I am cooking almost nightly.” Many echoed the same thing, saying that they were able to re-allocate their restaurant budgets to grocery shopping. Others put a spotlight on a different part of the story: “The biggest way the crisis has affected me is in higher prices on most products and shortages of some products,” reported one reader. “The cost of groceries has skyrocketed,” said another, making certain items (like meat) too expensive to buy.
Just how much are people spending on groceries on a weekly basis, then? The biggest proportion of those surveyed (39 percent) reported spending between $100 and $200 per week. For reference, the USDA publishes monthly reports tracking the cost of food, and this is the same range for a typical family of four on both the “Thrifty” and “Low-Cost” Food Plans. Of course, this USDA range is indeed up a bit from the beginning of 2020.
Of everything we learned from this survey, we were the most shocked to learn that three-quarters of respondents are still shopping in stores for groceries. While Americans were being asked to stay home as much as possible, grocery shopping remained an essential task and nearly all supermarkets remained open this entire time. (We all have to eat!)
This issue of who grocery shops has certainly been one of the knottier ethical questions during the pandemic. Every trip to the store increases the risk of contracting the virus for you and your family. But sending someone else — a gig employee through a service like Instacart, for example — puts someone else at risk. (Not to mention that delivery, early in the pandemic, was nearly impossible to arrange and typically a more expensive option. “I am spending so much on groceries because I have to have it delivered. I am 70 and have diabetes … if I order $125 in groceries, I have to pay $160 or more because of fees and tip. The tip I don’t mind,” one reader noted.)
While our readers mostly still brave the stores themselves, we learned that many of you started doing it differently. “I am now shopping once per month in an effort to reduce the exposure of our family. Because of this, I often have to prioritize using my most perishable ingredients first, which means I’m often using shelf-stable items by the end of the month,” one reader reported.
Understandably, 30 percent of readers reported that they’re not really allowing for any sort of grocery-related splurges these days. Of those respondents who are willing to splurge, most are putting their money towards high-quality meat and seafood, organic produce, or alcohol.
“My restaurant budget is now $0 a month, so I am spending more on indulgences,” said one reader, who has reallocated eating-out funds to other sorts of splurges. “My focus has been eating better and healthier, which means trying to prioritize buying good products and groceries that will help us make better meals,” said another. This is not the case for all, of course. One respondent, noting the high prices of meat and fish, said “We’re struggling to make ends meet.”
Let’s keep this conversation going! Feel free to tell us about your financial situation in the comments below.