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Here’s how the pandemic has upended the financial lives of average Americans: CNBC + Acorns survey

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From jobs to savings to retirement plans, the coronavirus pandemic has upended many Americans’ financial lives.

While millions are still unemployed and many have seen their emergency savings run dry, it isn’t all necessarily negative. Many are saving more and spending less.

In fact of those surveyed in a new CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey, 46% said they are “more of a saver now” compared to before the pandemic.

Additionally, 60% consider themselves “savers,” up from 54% last year. The poll, conducted by SurveyMonkey Aug. 13-20, surveyed 5,401 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of +/-2%.

About half, or 49%, said their monthly spending has decreased, compared to 33% last year.

Some of those savings can be attributed to the fact that people stayed home and didn’t do things like dining out, said personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, co-founder of HerMoney.

“We learned how to go to the grocery store not every day, but once a week, which meant meal planning and shopping with a list and those are fabulous money-saving skills,” she said. “We learned which of our subscription services we actually watch and which ones we don’t.”

Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California, said she has clients who are spending less money. That, in turn, has them feeling a sense of urgency. Her firm’s client meeting schedule is up substantially since the pandemic began.

“We have seen an uptick in an interest in investing,” said Sun, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council. “They are seeing their checking accounts getting larger and they think that money is not earning enough for them.”

Millennial Stacey Kelly is one of those savers. The Los Angeles-based content producer has managed to save about $800 to $1,000 every month since the pandemic began.

“I didn’t realize how much money, especially in L.A., that I was spending on food and on my hair,” she said. “Once the pandemic hit, I had to start cooking for myself and doing my hair myself.”

Stacey Kelly has increased her savings during the coronavirus pandemic

Source: Stacey Kelly

As an African-American, Kelly said her hair is a big part of her identity. So she went to the salon every week for a wash and blow dry. She also used to eat out often, go shopping and buy Starbucks coffee. While she managed to save money by having a set amount automatically transferred into a savings account, she was dipping into it every month for living expenses.

“I have all these buckets for savings,” Kelly said. “It just feels good because I can actually put money in it now.”

People have also cut back on spending because of concern over the economy, the survey found.

Of those who said they cut spending, 53% said worry about the current economic situation was the reason they cut spending, and 26% said it was because of a loss or decrease in a source of household income. Additionally, 16% feared another stock market downturn and 14% lost their jobs.

The pandemic has also caused Americans to postpone spending money on a vacation (54%), remodeling or renovating their home (15%) or buying a car (14%), the survey found.

Those who had an increase in spending cited the cost of essential items going up (51%) and shopping due to boredom (24%) as the top reasons.

Tapping into emergency savings

Uncertainty over retirement

When it comes to saving for retirement, most Americans (67%) said pandemic didn’t disrupt their plans and 19% are not sure how the crisis will impact their retirement.

However, there is greater uncertainty among those who work part-time or are unemployed. Almost a quarter, or 23%, of part-time workers and 32% unemployed people looking for work said they are unsure of the impact.

Of those who are unemployed and looking for work, 15% are actively making plans to delay their retirement.

Saving for children

Many Americans also don’t have money put aside for their children. 

A majority, 53%, said they don’t have savings such as bonds, cash, 529 college savings accounts or regular savings accounts for their kids. 

Almost one-third, or 32%, said they have a savings account and 13% have a 529 plan. Meanwhile, 8% have savings bonds, cash or certificates of deposit (CDs) and 7% have an individual retirement account or Roth IRA set up for their children.

One big issue parents face when saving for their children is overthinking it, Sun said. 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she said. 

Parents can start at just $10 a month being automatically pulled out of their checking account into a savings account. Once it grows bigger, then decide what to do with it, like putting into a 529 plan, she advised.

“Just start and everything else will fall into place,” Sun said.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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