Household Expenses During the Pandemic: This Is How the Health Crisis Affected American Families’ Budgeting

Staff Report

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

When the pandemic started, it sent the world into a tailspin. The first few months saw people scrambling for solutions, be they living space solutions for their new living and work-related challenges, tech solutions for their new work and school arrangements or financial solutions, for the spending challenges that a global health crisis entailed.

And because of how suddenly it all happened, tracking these changes in lifestyle habits and spending routines was quite easy, often times producing dramatic-looking charts and graphs. One of those charts was released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and it follows the changes in spending for the basic life needs of the average American household.

The evolution in spendings for categories like housing costs, transportation, food, education, personal insurance and even reading and entertainment all reveal the massive shift in priorities of the American people.

Soon After the Pandemic Began, Households Responded by Cutting Expenditures in Almost All Categories 

Comparing how much American families spent on basic life expenses in 2019 and 2020, Point2 analysts realized that for a while, people stopped spending money on everything: food expenses dropped because everyone was avoiding eating out; entertainment expenses were cut out from family budgeting as indoor spaces had to be avoided at all costs; and transportation expenses fell because people were mostly confined to their own homes.

In Atlanta, Living Expenses Took Up 81% of Residents’ Incomes in 2020

So, with expenditures falling almost across the board, the few outlier metros that recorded increases in certain categories stood out. For example, although food expenses generally decreased because people stopped eating out, Atlanta saw significant increases in expenditures for both food (14.5%) and alcohol beverages (31.4%).

On the other hand, a category where the Georgia metro was very much in trend was transportation: Expenditures for this category recorded a drop of over 11% in 2020 as compared to the previous year. Looking at how much these costs took out of a household’s yearly income, analysts discovered that Atlanta households spent 28.9% of their yearly income on Housing alone in 2020. What’s more, Atlanta was in the top three metros, along with Boston and Anchorage, where total basic expenditures took up the largest share of residents’ incomes (over 80%). In this metro, families are left with less than 20% of their income after covering all the basic costs of living.