Bay Area residents say that after the unprecedented emotional and financial toll of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic they’re ready to save more for an emergency and pay down debt.
But maybe first they’ll splurge on that long-delayed trip. Or a really nice dinner.
Those are the findings of a new poll from the financial services firm Charles Schwab, which in February asked 750 Bay Area residents about their financial plans. Two-thirds of respondents said they considered themselves savers in 2020, and 82 percent also said they plan to save more than spend in the coming year.
More specifically, 51 percent said they plan to save more in general, while 28 percent want to pay down debts and 26 percent want to build up an emergency fund.
“Many people were experiencing some sort of an emergency in their own lives,” said Colleen O’Brien, a Charles Schwab Oakland branch manager. “Everybody knows they should save but this kind of catalyst, this event, really made people do it,” said
The results are similar to the findings of a new national survey from Bankrate and SSRS, which reported that about eight in 10 respondents said they had at least one financial regret coming out of the pandemic. The most common was not saving enough for emergencies, which topped not saving more for retirement and taking on too much credit card debt. About a quarter said they plan to save more for emergencies, while a fifth plan to spend less.
“Emergency savings has long been the Achilles’ heel of financial security, with too many Americans ill-prepared for the unexpected,” Bankrate’s chief financial analyst Greg McBride said in a statement. “The sudden and deep recession brought on by the pandemic has driven this point home.”
Renewed interest in saving money comes after a year that saw California reach a 16 percent unemployment rate in April 2020 driven by the pandemic and lockdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus. Through March, there were still 696,400 more unemployed Californians compared to the same time last year, according to data from the Employment Development Department.
More than half of Bay Area respondents to the Charles Schwab survey said they were financially affected by the pandemic in 2020, with roughly a third saying their salary or hours were reduced. More than a fifth were laid off or furloughed.
Still, some residents are hoping to have some fun post-COVID. About 53 percent of respondents said they dream about traveling again, and a third are planning to splurge on a vacation. Another 20 percent plan to break out money for dinner at a fancy restaurant and 14 percent will be hosting a party. The focus for people, O’Brien said, is now less about buying expensive items and more about shared experiences. Even she has been thinking about splurging on a trip now that vaccinations are more common.
“Is there anybody who hasn’t?” she said. “Maybe it’s not a trip to Europe, but maybe it’s a trip where we can all be together.”
For those hoping to be considered wealthy, the survey found Bay Area residents are scaling down how much money they think that would take, from $4.5 million in 2020 to $3.8 million this year. To be financially happy, residents say they need $1.3 million — down from the $1.5 million reported in last year’s survey.
O’Brien said some of that dip may be driven by people who during the pandemic were lucky enough to remain employed and decided to retire early, or realized they didn’t need as much money to retire as they had previously thought.
“What we found was that the focus shifted,” she said. “When you have all of this time when you’re saving more, you becoming more reflective.”
Of course, in parts of the Bay Area $4 million is barely enough to buy a house.