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The 2020/1 lockdown has given many of us no choice but to change the way we live our lives. We conducted a unique and insightful survey that would help us better understand how each generation spent their time and money during lockdown so we could look at how this has impacted business, and if our lifestyle changes are here to stay.

Our survey revealed that home improvements were more important than saving for the future for most during the UK lockdown periods. While 40% of people didn’t save a penny, a whopping 70% spent on home improvements. These findings raise a number of questions, particularly in terms of personal finances for the younger generation. Let’s explore them in more detail.

How did the lockdown impact our daily lives?

There have been very few elements of our lives that haven’t been impacted during the lockdown. Can you imagine going to a shop without a face mask anymore? Or sitting next to a total stranger on a bus?

With ‘stay local’ restrictions one of the last to be lifted, one of the most drastic changes has been the sheer amount of time we have spent either at home or in our immediate area. Without in-person shopping, holidays and events, we asked our respondents just how they spent their money during lockdown. 

People have invested in their home

  • 70% of the participants in our survey spent the most money on their home during lockdown
  • 33% of those who spent money on their homes spent the majority on their garden. 

Why have people prioritised spending money on their home?

While many business sectors have suffered during the pandemic, home and garden is an industry that has consistently thrived. It doesn’t seem surprising that home improvements would be such a large expenditure, as many of us have spent nearly every day at home for over a year. 

One major flaw of spending so much time around the house, is that it’s made our homes seem stale and monotonous. It’s estimated 53% of us have become more aware of things wrong with our home during lockdown! Psychologists have called redecorating a “healthy distraction from the heaviness” and Erlanger Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, said “given the stress of the pandemic… Decorating your home may serve as a cue of positive memories and emotions, which can be really helpful to promote joy and prevent sadness.” 

All generations have loved the living room

The topic of where we spent our time was shared across all generations, in a show of generational solidarity. 

  • 45% spent the most time in the living room
  • 20% spent the most time in the home office
  • 10% spend the most time in the bedroom

Why have we enjoyed our living rooms so much?

It makes sense that many of us would spend the most time in our living room, as it’s usually designed to be the most comfortable room in the house and is often the largest. The living room is where people invested the most money in DIY – second overall to the garden. 

Another reason many of us spent so much time in our living room? It where we’re most likely to keep our entertainment.

Across our respondents, their second and third biggest expenditure during lockdown was technology and entertainment. Gen Z spent more on entertainment than any other generation. At the height of the pandemic, Ofcom estimated adults spent six hours and twenty-five minutes a day, on average, watching television and online videos. 

It seems all generations truly relied on the living room as a place of escapism from the strange mix of uncertainty and banality that was lockdown.

How do we feel about our homes after a year?

  • 29% wanted more space
  • 15% would look for a more rural location
  • 12% would move to a detached home

It’s no surprise that we’re seeking space, peace and quiet from our homes after extended periods in the house. Especially those of us in house-shares who lacked privacy or lived in terraced houses where we maybe got to know our neighbours more than we’d like. 

We invested in our homes, but did we manage our finances?

According to our survey:

  • 60% of people saved money
  • 40% didn’t manage to save
  • 2/3 of baby boomers and millennials managed to both spend on their home AND save money during lockdown
  • Less than half of Gen X or Gen Y managed to save 
  • Gen Z was the least able to save, with only 33% able to build a rainy day fund

As many industries have been closed since March 2020, or were only able to open sporadically or with limited capacity, finances have been an especially difficult topic for many. In January 2021, 4.7 million workers were still on furlough as industries such as, live events and many sports have been unable to reopen and bring back workers. The number of workers on furlough has left a significant portion of the population with a great deal of uncertainty, and an unwelcoming job market. 

Despite this, the majority of our survey respondents were able to increase their savings during the lockdown. In fact, Brits saved around £17.5bn a month in the first two UK lockdowns.

Now the question is, do we spend these pots of money or continue to build on lockdown savings? We spoke to Scott Nelson from MoneyNerd who advised:

“To make the most of your lockdown savings while enjoying your newfound freedom, you need to approach the problem strategically.  Firstly, take the time to make sure your savings are working as hard as possible for you with regards to your specific goals. Set aside a small amount for an emergency fund, then enrol in matched company pension schemes, save via a LISA if you’re looking to buy your first home, and max out your yearly ISA allowance.

Once you’ve maxed out all the possible savings schemes available to you, you then want to allot a certain monthly budget for “fun”. Having a pre-established figure in mind that you’ll make sure not to exceed will allow you to enjoy your freedom, while not eating too significantly into your savings (or worrying about doing so).

As mentioned above, Gen Z was the least likely to save, which is potentially due to being the generation most likely to be furloughed across the UK. Our own research showed 30% of millennials were furloughed, making their ability to save more impressive. This may be reflected in millennials being more likely to own homes with partners where costs can be split, whereas Gen Z is more likely to flat-share or live at home with no one to combine finances with. 

We spoke to Margot de Broglie is the founder of Juno, a financial education platform for women who had some advice for those struggling with their personal finances:

If you have gone over your budget during the pandemic and overspent on things that brought you joy during a hard time- be it home improvements, take-aways or technology, don’t be too hard on yourself. The most important part is building your confidence back with money. After a year of lockdown, it’s tempting to fall into a ‘Screw it’ or ‘yolo’ mindset when it comes to our finances. We decide to abandon all financial goals until next year. We splurge, make unplanned purchases for the sake of being able to. The resulting mindset is guilt and a feeling of defeat. “


She added: “Alternatively, to account for the overspend during the lockdown, you could sit down and plan out the next few months to course-correct. Choose the occasions where spending money will make you happiest, and don’t overspend for the sake of it. You will feel much more in control and will be able to get back on track in no time.

How did we find working from home for a year? 

While not every industry has been able to work from home, such as construction and healthcare, many of us have adapted to remote working. While remote working was not unusual pre-March 2020, it was also not that common. 

That meant many of us needed to learn, overnight, how to build relationships online, stay productive with cats and children hanging off us and figure out just what Zoom was. In fact, 2020 coined the term “zoom fatigue” for those of us who were becoming increasingly worn down by staring into a webcam for hours every day.

Did we spend more time working or less?

One big concern about remote working for many employers, was productivity and time management. An employee concern was that the blurred lines between work and home would lead to employers expecting them to work longer hours and answer queries outside of work hours. However, our data suggests that despite the uncertainty, we managed to stay quite productive without putting in too many extra hours.

  • 50% of our respondents worked the same hours as pre-lockdown
  • 33% worked more hours
  • 17% worked less hours

Who was more likely to work additional hours, and did it make them more productive?

Our research found that Gen X was the most likely to work extra hours while Gen Z was the least likely. This may be because Gen X are far more likely to be in managerial positions who have needed to implement new working structures and deal with employee, and client, concerns alongside their usual workload.

Gen Z are also the only generation to feel less productive. This may because Gen Z workers are more likely to be in beginner positions that require mentoring that has proven difficult to replicate online. As Gen Z are also more likely to work in hospitality, they are more likely to have needed to take temporary work during lockdown that they may not be trained in, or passionate about, leading to them feeling less productive. 

How has our lifestyle change been reflected in the economy?

Partially because of how different our lives have been over the last year and partially because many industries are not open for business, our spending habits have changed. As our research shows, while generations have differed in many experiences during lockdown, all have prioritised at-home entertainment and home improvement. 

This has actually led a number of businesses to thrive during the lockdown period.

Garden

As shown by our research, we’ve all invested in giving our outdoor space a little zhuzh. The garden industry has been able to thrive over the last year. The HTA Garden Retail Monitor found sales of gardening products were up by 34% in June 2020 across the UK. While more people were spending, they were also making larger purchases. The average gardening purchase was 33% larger than the previous year.

Home improvement and DIY 

After the garden, our survey respondents spent the most on home improvement, specifically in the living room. In fact, it’s estimated UK homeowners have spent over £50 billion during the lockdown period. This is one sector that has absolutely thrived, whether lockdown has highlighted to people they’re ready to move to a new home and want to get it ready to sell, or shown people they’re happy where they are and it’s time to settle in for the long haul. Our customers invested in internal bifold doors and patio doors to help maximise natural light in their home and make the most of their surroundings.

Gifts and occasions

Mother’s Day 2020 was the first weekend under lockdown restrictions, and boy did we spend! In fact, there was a 122% increase in gifts sales and 229% in occasions sales compared to the previous year. Since Easter 2020, which saw a 415% increase in sales, orders have been up anywhere between 245% and 650% around holidays. 

Our survey showed, across all generations, 2/3rds of us were most looking forward to seeing our friends and families. Perhaps because we couldn’t show our loved one’s in person, we took the opportunity to do it via gifts!

Remote working solutions

This is one of the few workplace industries that truly thrived during lockdown. While some companies already had flexible and remote working, it was still a rarity in March 2020. Between January 2020 and April 2020, Zoom saw a 2,000% increase in users and as many companies have found remote working just as productive and can minimise office rent,  expect these numbers to stay.

E-commerce

Online retailing covers a wide spectrum of business, but the e-commerce world is where consumers have spent the most money. Research has shown that whether or not you’re new to online shopping, it has become ingrained in our shopping habits. 55% of shoppers report shopping more during lockdown, and 60% have seen an increase in overall spending. 

Businesses who didn’t prioritise online shopping before 2020 have had to quickly try and catch up to behemoths like Amazon, who have given customers an expectation of ease of shopping and a large product variety. By June 2020, Amazon’s stock price had grown by nearly $1,000.

Are these changes here to stay? 

Our research does suggest a change in long-term lifestyle habits, which will lead to a long-term change in our spending habits. Many of us are beginning to crave more space, specifically a detached home or one in a more rural location. This is backed up by data from TwentyEA, who found that home movers are increasingly looking for properties with gardens for extra space. Zoopla also found that the demand for rural properties went up 80%.

If remote work becomes a fixture, this will give more people the opportunity to live in rural communities that, due to commuting, previously didn’t seem accessible. While this may breathe life back into many villages, it will see emptier cities with less high-street shopping. This isn’t caused by the lockdown though, but is rather exacerbated by it, as between 2014 and 2018 there was already a decline of up to 75% in retail workers.

However, we should expect to see a bounce back in events and travel. 1 in 5 Gen Y and Millennials missed holidays and travelling more than anything, and as millennials were able to spend, it’ll be interesting to see if they choose to invest or splurge on the trip of a lifetime. 

Gen Z missed live music more than any other generation – so expect to see some big arena tours in 2022 filled with happy gen Z’s. Gen X meanwhile have missed the pub and restaurants so hopefully, we will see a sharp rise in hospitality over the next few months as restrictions are lifted. 

At this point, it’s too early to see if any of these changes will be long-term. We’ll have to wait until restrictions have been lifted to see if people have found joy in their new lifestyles or have been patiently waiting to spend. 

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