Americans are stockpiling supplies again as coronavirus cases surge, survey finds

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·4 min read

Public health experts warn that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is still to come, prompting many Americans to revert to their spring habits of amassing supplies.

More than a third of American consumers — or 86.7 million people — have started stockpiling household goods, according to a new survey from LendingTree, while another third plan to but haven’t done so yet.

Read more: How to protect yourself from porch pirates this holiday season

People are predominately buying essentials like food, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, water, and paper products, the survey found.

“It's understandable because people remember what it was like a few months ago when there were runs on hand sanitizer and toilet paper,” LendingTree Chief Credit Analyst Matt Schulz told Yahoo Money. “People don't want to be left behind if that sort of thing happens again.”

More than a third of Americans — or 86.7 million people — have started stockpiling household goods, according to a new survey from LendingTree. (Photo: Getty)
More than a third of Americans — or 86.7 million people — have started stockpiling household goods, according to a new survey from LendingTree. (Photo: Getty)

The rush back to stores comes even as pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer provide encouraging updates on the approval and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, with estimates pegging widespread availability for Americans by spring.

But the country remains on a scary trajectory, with a record number of new COVID-19 hospitalizations and an all-time daily death toll reported on Wednesday. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, warned the worst is yet to come at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times,” he said. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult in the public health history of this nation.”

A package of toilet paper sits on an otherwise empty shelf in the paper products aisle of a store in Burbank, California, on November 19, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)
A package of toilet paper sits on an otherwise empty shelf in the paper products aisle of a store in Burbank, California, on November 19, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

As they stockpile for winter, Americans are spending more money in the process versus the early spring. The average per-person spend on coronavirus-related supplies in October and the first week of November was $359, doubling March’s average of $178.

People are also facing competing financial decisions as the winter holidays collide with COVID-19 preparation, Schulz said, while the likelihood of a second stimulus check before year-end is almost zero.

Read more: Coronavirus stimulus checks: Here's how people are spending their relief money

To bridge the financial gap, more than a quarter of Americans (27%) have taken on credit card debt for pandemic-related supplies, with laid-off or furloughed workers with young children being disproportionately impacted, according to the survey.

While buying supplies “makes a lot of sense,” Schulz warned there’s a fine line between stocking up and hoarding.

A shopper walks past empty shelves in the paper products aisle of a store in Burbank, California, on November 19, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)
A shopper walks past empty shelves in the paper products aisle of a store in Burbank, California, on November 19, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

“What we don't want is to have people going out and spending this money that they don't have on things that they don't necessarily need,” he said, “and making things harder on people who actually do need them.”

“A lot of it is about impulse buying,” he added, calling it a “really quick way to wreck your budget.”

Read more: More produce, bigger bills: How our grocery shopping changed during the pandemic

Instead, Schulz encouraged people to be realistic about the items they actually use and shop for reasonable quantities, rather than buying for the sake of it and risk overextending your household’s budget.

“The best thing that people can do is be planful about their spending, be thoughtful about their budgets,” he said, “and do what they can to protect themselves and their finances during this really weird period.”

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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