New Report Shows Troubling Link Between Stress, Spending, and the Pandemic

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Stress and spending have always been linked, and the coronavirus pandemic has made financial vices more alluring for many Americans. According to the latest MagnifyMoney survey, 70% of consumers have spent money during the pandemic on financial vices, ranging from alcohol and cigarettes to adult entertainment and lottery tickets — spending nearly $950 on average. Plus, nearly 4 in 10 Americans used money from their savings account to cover these vices in 2020.

To find out how the pandemic impacted this kind of spending, MagnifyMoney surveyed 1,550 Americans on what vices people were spending on — and what money they used to do so.

Key Findings:

  • 70% of consumers have spent money on at least one financial vice during the pandemic — especially alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.
  • Men and those laid off or furloughed amid the pandemic are spending more on adult entertainment. 26% of men and 28% of those who were laid off or furloughed said they’re spending more on adult entertainment, such as OnlyFans, than they were before the pandemic.
  • Americans spent $946 — on average — on vices in 2020. 45% of consumers feel guilty about spending that money, and those who were laid off or furloughed feel significantly more guilty than those who didn’t lose income.
  • 46% of those who spent money on a vice in 2020 said they sometimes opted to spend money on the vice rather than put the money in savings. Separately, 38% went a step further and pulled money from their savings account to cover a vice.
  • Some consumers who struggled the most during the pandemic have taken on debt for their vice, including 33% who were laid off or furloughed, 26% of millennials and 21% of Gen Zers. Across all respondents, 17% went into debt for a vice within the past year.
  • About a third of those who spent money on vices in 2020 said that spending translated to an argument with a loved one. For example, 26% of millennials and 24% of men argued with a romantic partner or spouse, while 24% of Gen Zers argued with a friend.

“People have just been bombarded by stress continuously for the past year, and many people lean on their vices to help them through really difficult times,” said Matt Schulz, LendingTree’s chief credit analyst. “It’s troubling because these vices can often do far more damage than good, but I also totally understand why people fall back on them.”

“By going into debt over your vices, you’re simply creating multiple problems for yourself while trying to solve another one,” Schulz said. “Instead of leaning on one of those unhealthy, costly vices, consider alternatives like exercise, meditation, reading, writing or other things that you might be passionate about that can consume your time and relieve stress. Ultimately, your body, your wallet and your family will be glad you did.”


MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to field an online survey of 1,550 Americans, conducted Jan. 8-11, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.

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