OMG — Can You Believe How Much We Spent in 2021?

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The ongoing pandemic has radically altered our way of living — and our way of spending, and 2021 is proof that we may not ever go back to “normal”. More than a year into COVID-19, Americans are still turning in droves to the internet to conduct their shopping. In the first quarter of 2020, U.S. consumers spent $214.6 billion on online retail in Q3 2021, according to the U.S Census of the Department of Commerce — an increase of 6.8% over Q3 2020. 

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So, what are we spending all this money on? Data shows we’re buying essentials such as food and groceries — which have endured drastic price surges due to inflation. But we’re also allocating funds toward entertainment and other categories that rank higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Here’s a look at what we purchased like crazy in 2021, along with a rough estimate of just how much we spent.

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1. Groceries 

We may no longer be panic buying at supermarkets as we were when the pandemic first struck and the lockdowns began — but we’re still spending a fortune on groceries. According to Move.org, the average cost of groceries in America is $355.50 a month per person, though this number varies depending on location (for instance, in Honolulu the average is $556.76). Inflation is driving costs up and for many, keeping up with the cost of food is becoming a real struggle.  In October, grocery prices were 5.4% higher than a year prior, according to the latest consumer price index.

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2. Streaming Services 

With movie theaters and other entertainment venues largely shuttered during the pandemic, Americans’ devotion to subscription video streaming services intensified — and that trend appears to be here to stay. A survey by J.D. Power found that even as more live entertainment options became available, as of June, 79% of consumers were spending the same — or more time — streaming than they were six months prior. Consumers also upped their streaming subscriptions to an average of 4.5 providers in June, up from 3.9 providers the previous December. As of January, Americans spent an average of $47 per month on streaming services.

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3. Alcohol

Though many bars may shut down permanently due to the pandemic, the sport of drinking is alive and well within peoples’ homes. According to Statista, as of May 2021, U.S. beer, wine and liquor store sales amounted to $6.07 billion. Holidays appear to be a popular excuse to splurge tremendously on booze. According to WalletHub,  Americans were expected to spend more that $1.4 billion on beer and wine on the Fourth of July alone — not much less than the $1.6 billion they spent in total on beer and wine in 2019.

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4. Our Pets 

Americans have long treated their pets like additional (arguably preferable) family members, but the ongoing pandemic has kicked our devotion up a notch — or so our bank accounts would suggest. In 2020, U.S consumers spent $103.6 billion on their beloved companions, according to the American Pet Products Association. 2021 was expected to show an increase, with Americans spending $109.6 billion on their furry friends.

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5. Restaurants and Takeout Food 

Cooking at home became the norm during the height of the pandemic, but now that restaurants have reopened, people are hungry for dining out and ordering food to go. A survey by LendingTree found that Americans spent  23.1% more at restaurants and takeout spots in January 2021 than they did at the first peak of the pandemic in April 2020. The average household spent $359 on food away from home in that month alone.

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6. Air Travel

Though air travel is still nowhere near as popular as it was in the “before” times, airlines have begun to bounce back from the blows of 2020. According to the U.S Department of Transportation, the total number of flights operated in July reached 86% of pre-pandemic levels. Despite concerns over the new Omicron variant, Americans are boarding planes in droves. This past Thanksgiving, more than 2.3 million consumers flew — setting a new record in the era of COVID. Meanwhile the cost of flying is up — as is the price of hotels.

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7. Video Games

Like streaming services, which became more popular in 2020 and then even more so in 2021, video games continue to gain momentum. ​​According to the Q3 2021 Games Market Dynamics: U.S. report from The NPD Group, consumers spent $13.3 billion on video games — up 7% from what they spent in Q3 2020.

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8. Impulse Buys 

Everyone seems to know it’s bad, but few seem able to resist it: impulse spending. According to a recent Slickdeals survey, in 2021, the average consumers made around 12 impulse purchases, spending an average of $276 per month on these hasty buys — up from an average of $183 per month in 2020.

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9. Swimsuits

Spring break in 2020 was mostly a lost cause thanks to COVID, but in 2021, April getaways made a comeback — as was reflected in our spending. Summersalt, a direct-to-consumer online swim and apparel brand, told CNBC that in April, its sales were up more than 850% from the same time a year prior. The bathing suit and beachwear markets grew 5% in 2021 over 2019, according to WWD.

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10. Homes

2021 has been one of the craziest years in real estate — and it has yet to cool down. With rock-bottom interest rates across the nation, the demand for housing increased well beyond the supply, leading to a draconian housing shortage. According to research from Zillow, a U.S. home swelled in value by 13.2% year-over-year in May. But skyrocketing prices didn’t hold back prospective buyers, with homes selling faster than ever recorded in U.S. history.

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