COVID-19’s influence is difficult to fathom. With such a strong grip on our businesses, our schools, and our health, can we really know how the pandemic will play out? What does an experience like this do to a person’s wallet and their ability to feel financially comfortable?
We recently checked in with over 1,000 people across the country who, like you, have recently experienced the fallout from the global pandemic. By comparing sentiments from two surveys conducted just four months apart, we were able to see specifically how the coronavirus has influenced people’s financial behaviors, their investment strategies, and even their concept of wealth and comfort. Some strategies appealed more to specific generations than others. If you’re looking to see how your own financial reactions to COVID-19 measure up to those across the country, keep reading.
Redefining Financial Comfort
The original survey (completed in late February of 2020) had asked participants how much money they would need in savings and as an annual salary in order to feel both financially comfortable and wealthy. We asked these same questions again to a similar population since the coronavirus outbreak and compared them in the infographic below.
The before and after pictures of comfort and wealth looked very different. Before the coronavirus, comfort looked like an annual salary of $70,000 and a savings account with $40,000 inside. One coronavirus later, however, and financial comfort is now thought to mean a $60,000 annual salary and a $25,000 savings account. This means that our standards for financial comfort have dropped by more than 37%.
But the definition of wealth itself had also changed. Last year, in order to feel “financially wealthy,” Americans said they would want $200,000 in savings and to earn $130,000 each year. Now? Those numbers each dropped to $100,000. This means that the price of feeling rich is about half of what it was last year. This is likely good news for the 43% who lost their jobs and paychecks during the outbreak.
Liquid Assets and Financial Comfort
We put numbers aside for just a moment and asked people if they felt comfortable, regardless of how much they had. Then we put our numbers back in to compare those sentiments against their actual finances. The following part of the study looks at how comfortable respondents felt in comparison to the amount of liquid assets they held at the time.
Despite the storm, a large percentage of respondents felt financially comfortable. About half reported feeling this way, with 8% even hitting the “very comfortable” range. That said, deep financial discomfort was not uncommon either: 1 in 4 remained financially uncomfortable.
When asked how much cash or liquid assets respondents were currently holding, the median answer was $5,000. But it was twice as much among those who felt financially comfortable.
Uncomfortable respondents had only $2,000 in liquid assets. These can include things like money market instruments or marketable securities, and they totaled $10,000 on average for respondents feeling comfortable. Overall, people said they would need a total of $15,000 in emergency savings to maintain this feeling of comfort.
This financial solace was more often experienced by those who worked with a financial advisor. Nearly three-quarters of this group said they enjoyed financial comfort, compared with only a third of those who weren’t using the advisor’s help. The actual holding percentage of liquid assets had also changed significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Nearly a third said they were holding more liquid assets now, 21% said they were holding less, and only half managed to keep their holdings the same. Perhaps these increased holdings have enabled increased comfort as well.
Are Americans More or Less Financially Responsible During COVID-19?
According to our respondents, many felt the effects of COVID-19 increased their financial responsibility. Fifty-one percent reported becoming more financially responsible since the pandemic’s onset.
But the increased responsibility may have been forced more than inspired: When respondents were asked which behavior they changed, the most common answer was that they spent less. While this is encouraging, it also was nearly mandated by such mass scale business closures. Without the ability to socialize and attend events, money became easier to save in some scenarios (assuming you were able to maintain your job). Nevertheless, 26% also began tracking their expenses more, which most financial experts would agree is a key step in getting your financial future in order.
Most changes appeared to be positive, but those who were using a financial advisor seemed to know some things others didn’t. In response to the pandemic, those who were working with a financial advisor chose more often to change up their savings strategy (34%) as well as their investing strategy (28%). Millennials, or those currently between 26 and 40 years old, were even likelier to adopt these changing investment and savings strategies. To see some specific strategic moves, continue reading.
Even if you’re one of the “very comfortable” 8% right now, a little strategy never hurt. Strategies for some respondents were more aggressive, while others remained more conservative. We also looked at the percentages of each generation buying up stocks, as well as how frequently respondents were checking the market.
General strategy saw a few different changes. Forty percent have already been checking the markets more frequently, with as many as 32% checking it every single day. Only 11% weren’t looking at all. That said, checking the market this frequently isn’t always a good idea, especially if you’re a long-term investor. Very very few – if any – of your investments depend on the daily fluctuations and news.
Purchasing stock was also a popular strategy. The tried-and-true suggestion of buying low became a major possibility earlier this year when most stock prices plummeted in March. These investments have likely seen rewards already for the 55% who made them since the novel coronavirus pandemic began: as of writing, the U.S. stock market is nearly back to even for the year. –
Millennials were the most likely to say they invested more than they otherwise would have. They were also the most likely generation to say they’ve been generally more aggressive in their investing strategies. Younger investors do have more time to recuperate losses and can arguably take more aggressive risks in the market. Once you hit retirement, you no longer have decades to grow your resources, and the risk would be compounded. Of people working with a financial advisor, 45% changed their investment strategies to become more aggressive, compared to just 14% of those who took this route without a financial advisor.
Have you yet let yourself daydream about what you might buy when the economy is entirely open? Respondents have. They shared the expenditures they felt likely to make as well as how aggressive they felt they’d be in terms of investing.
While we previously saw that millennials were being more aggressive with their investing strategies, another 22% said they’ll remain aggressive even once the economy recovers. Twenty percent of respondents overall also said they’d be more aggressive come recovery time. While we always advocate against market timing and stock picking, COVID-19 provided both quick-win opportunities and a desire to avoid boredom.
Ultimately, respondents had their “aggressive” sights set on purchases outside of that market as well. Forty-one percent said they wanted to spend more on vacations, while 37% said dining out sounded great. Both the travel and the restaurant industries were particularly hard hit during enforced quarantine, so it’s encouraging to see at least inklings of a rebound. It was also important to start spending more on self-care and hobbies for about a third of respondents, but 19% didn’t expect to spend anything extra once the pandemic had passed.
The Plan For After COVID-19
Evidently, financial comfort and security look different to Americans than before. Because of such economic hardship, some people have found more comfort with less. The amount of savings and income they felt they would need has dropped significantly since the pandemic, and many are beginning to invest more aggressively.
Those who used a financial advisor, however, were more likely to maintain the comfort they were used to or even increased financial comfort during these times. An additional 33% also told us they’re interested in working with a financial advisor if they weren’t already. Considering the success rate and the external calamity all around us, a knowledgeable hand could certainly go a long way toward establishing a secure financial future.
At Personal Capital, our team of financial advisors can help you take control of your financial life, right from the comfort of your home. We offer free financial tools to help you do everything from setting up and tracking a budget to managing your finances and planning for retirement. We also have fiduciary financial advisors for clients of our Wealth Management services who will help you form a personalized financial plan. So head to Personal Capital today and start planning the smart way.
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Methodology and Limitations: We conducted a survey of 1,010 people and asked them about their personal finance behaviors, their financial comfort, and changes to investment strategist as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was conducted on June 24, 2020. Forty-three percent of respondents identified as women, about 57% identified as men, and less than 1% of respondents identified as a gender not listed by the study. Sixty percent of respondents were millennials, 25% were Generation X, and 10% were baby boomers. The remainder of respondents belonged to other generation groups that were not included due to low sample size. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 82 with a mean of 37 and a standard deviation of 12. Results from this study were compared to a previous study of 1,010 people that was conducted on February 29, 2020. Results from this study were referred to as “before COVID-19” and used for comparison in the first graphic. The data included in this study rely on self-report and are subject to selective memory, exaggeration, and telescoping. It is possible that with a greater sample of demographics we may have been able to gather more accurate insight into these groups.
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