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The 2021 Planning & Progress Study, an annual research study from Northwestern Mutual, explores U.S. adults’ attitudes and behaviors toward money, financial decision-making, and the broader issues impacting people’s long-term financial security.

COVID-19 and Financial Behavior


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In just over a year, so many habits and behaviors have been transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and they extend well beyond social distancing, facemasks and working from home. Northwestern Mutual research finds a third (32%) of Americans say their financial discipline has improved during the pandemic, and 95% say they expect their newfound habits will stick after the health crisis subsides.

These are the first set of findings from the 2021 Planning & Progress Study, an annual research project commissioned by Northwestern Mutual that explores Americans’ attitudes and behaviors toward money, financial decision-making and broader issues impacting people’s long-term financial security.

The study finds that the pandemic and related events have prompted people to get proactive with their planning. Nearly one out of five (17%) U.S. adults aged 18+ say they didn’t have a financial plan before the pandemic, but now they have one in place. Overall, 83% of people were prompted to either create, revisit, or adjust their financial plan during the pandemic.

Among the behaviors that people say they’ve adopted and expect to maintain going forward are:

  • Reducing living costs/spending (e.g., cancel subscriptions, eat out less, etc.) - 45%
  • Paying down debt - 34%
  • Increasing investing - 33%
  • Regularly revisiting financial plans - 29%
  • Increasing use of tech/digital solutions to manage finances - 28%
  • Increasing retirement contribution/savings - 25%


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Setbacks and Postponements

Nearly half (45%) of Americans say the pandemic has impacted their timeline for achieving long-term financial security, with most saying it’s a setback of one to two years. 

  • 15% say it has set them back less than a year
  • 18% say it has set them back 1-2 years
  • 9% say it has set them back 3-5 years
  • 3% say more than 5 years

For Gen Z and Millennials, it’s a majority -- 63% and 65% respectively say they’ve been set back financially. But the amount of time lost for these generations is consistent with the broader population as the most common estimation is one to two years.

Additionally, more than one-third (35%) of people have postponed a major financial or life event because of the pandemic, including:

  • Making/funding large purchases or projects (home renovation, new car, etc.) - 17%
  • Changing jobs/looking for a new job - 10%
  • Buying or building a new home - 9%

In forthcoming data sets, the 2021 Planning & Progress Study will explore wide-ranging issues facing Americans spanning savings and debt, work and retirement, planning, priorities and more.

 

Read the news release

Download the 2021 Planning and Progress Study - COVID-19 and Financial Behavior