12 Surprises from Seasoned YNABers During COVID-19


It’s hard to guess in blanket terms how people are feeling and what they’re thinking during “The Great Pause,” as I hope it will one day be referred to. We’ve known for a long time that our customers make up a very wide swath of people: some are celebrating money in their savings account for the first time ever while others are buying a home in the Caribbean (and paying for renovations in cash). Both wonderful, both freeing: the unifying thread is complete control over their money. 

Last week we sent out a survey in our newsletter and on our social channels to finally get to the bottom of our guesstimations and assumptions: how are you all actually feeling? How has your budget changed during COVID-19? And if that stimulus check hit your account, how did you actually spend that money? Over 1,000 YNABers responded!

Here were our takeaways from the survey: frankly, some of the results surprised me. 

1. 72% Had “Income as Usual”

A full 72% of respondents had no change in their income during COVID, and the majority were simply working from home. For those that did experience a drop in income, most people saw a 30% or less reduction.

2. Financial Confidence Was Rated 7.3/10

We asked “on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your financial position, with 1 being quicksand and 10 being solid rock,” the average rating was 7.3. Well hot dang! I’d say that’s a firm foundation indeed!

3. 81% of People Saw Grocery Spending Increase

It’s no surprise that most people said that stay-at-home orders meant their grocery budgets bloomed, but the real surprise is that meant 19% of people didn’t see their grocery costs increase. Tell us your secrets, people!

4. Takeout, Home Improvement, and Alcohol Tied For Extra Spend

When asked what people were spending more money on, groceries obviously blew the rest of the options away (see above and also look in your freezer for the banana bread loafs to prove it). But what followed grocery spend was a photo finish between meal delivery/take-out, home improvement, and alcohol. Is it just me, or does anyone else get a little sparkle of delight with that lineup? I feel like the option you pick speaks to the quarantine character you’ve likely become. Bottoms up!

5. Online Classes and Online Fitness? Forget It.

There were two categories that ranked at the bottom of the list for increased spend: online classes and online fitness. Less than 8% of people were spending more on either option. That either means we’re all sitting on the couches (quite likely) or we’ve discovered the endless world of free content the internet can offer (equally likely). 

6. 64% of People Made No Changes to Financial Contributions

While most people said there was no change to their contributions (retirement accounts, debt payoff, savings), if anything changed, it was likely student loans. Digging a little deeper on this one, the Cares Act automatically suspended interest, payments and involuntary collection until Sept. 30 for most people with federal student loans—so it may not have even been a conscious choice.

7. The Most Popular Use of Stimulus Money: Emergency Fund and True Expenses

For those that were getting stimulus checks, the most popular decisions were to stash it in an emergency fund or save it for true expenses. Ya’ll would make Jesse proud. To see what else YNABers spent with their stimulus check, see the list.

8. 25% Weren’t Planning on Getting a Stimulus Check 

When we asked what people were doing with their stimulus checks, 25% said they were not planning on getting one. My first thought was well geesh, we’ve got a lot of turbo high-income earners. Until I read the comments: 

  • “Canadian here. No stimulus check.”
  • “Don’t know what a stimulus cheque is. In the UK.” (can we all just spell it “cheque” from now on? It’s so elegant!)
  • “I am from Australia.”

My bad, my bad. While there likely are high income earners in the mix, there’s no denying the wonderfully global community of YNABers around the world.

9. 18% of People are Staring at the Wall More

We asked people how they were spending their time. I’m not sure if I thought that the percentage who chose “staring at the wall” would be higher or lower, but everything else sorted neatly how you would expect: 

  • Over half of people reported watching more shows, scrolling through social media, cooking/baking, or reading books

People are taking care of themselves in the way they need it most.

10. Motivation is Neither High Nor Low

I half expected the survey results to sort neatly into the wall-starers and those that will emerge from their homes looking like The Rock, but it turns out most of us rank squarely in the middle: on a scale of 1 to 5—the average motivation was a 3. Sigh of relief—take that pressure off yourself to write a novel, do beach body, and hone your woodworking skills. Maybe it’ll happen, but it’s OK if it doesn’t. 

11. More People Have Felt Content Than Annoyed

While most people have felt stressed during this time (felt by an unsurprising 64% of respondents), feelings of contentedness ranked in the second spot—above sad, annoyed, or bored. It’s obvious we’re feeling many emotions (along with loneliness, anxiousness, tiredness, uncertainty, and feeling stir-crazy), but we think this respondent captured it best: “All of the above at once, or off and on.”

12. People are So Kind and Generous

The generosity of YNABers never ceases to amaze me. When asked how people spent their stimulus checks, here are some of the answers:

  • Donated 100% to furloughed family member.
  • I bought dinner for my hard-working, super stressed out, under-staffed team at work.
  • We donated the vast majority to our regional food bank. We’ll be fine and there are others that need the support.
  • I am an educator and will buy grocery cards for student families.

Well ok, then—pass the tissues! Talk about paying it forward!

Thanks to all who shared their thoughts. It’s so encouraging to see the financial confidence from this group, and we’re so honored by the kind comments many of you left for us about our software and content. 

Oh and one more thing: the content you wanted most from us was more YNAB tips and tricks. We listened: read 8 Quick Tips for Your YNAB Budget, hot off the presses! Cheers to your peaceful, efficient budgeting.

To see the full results from the survey, click here.