Live Q&A: How are your spending habits changing under lockdown?

I have resisted “going paperless” and still receive a monthly bank statement through the post for our main account.

Online banking is brilliant, but it doesn’t replace the frankly obscene level of satisfaction I get from ticking off transactions and ringing unusual items to investigate.

However, my March statement was truly a month of two halves. The first 10 days showed the usual jumble of spending on public transport, Ubers, working lunches, online grocery deliveries, a beauty treatment and Friday night dinner in our favourite restaurant.

By the end of the month, spending had plummeted. No transport, no coffees, and certainly no drinks or meals out — and no online shopping either (in our area, Waitrose.com delivery slots are booked solid until July). 

The only transactions I’ve made recently have been at local food shops within walking distance of our flat, including a contactless payment at the start of April for nearly £45 — the new higher limit as the government encourages us to go cashless to stem the spread of the virus. 

As someone who advocates saving money, you might think ending the month with more cash than usual would make me feel good. But it doesn’t.

It certainly makes me feel lucky to the point of feeling guilty, as I know so many are watching their personal finances unravel in this crisis

This week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies came up with the concept of “forced savings” to describe the phenomenon. Overall, the IFS estimates UK households normally devote a quarter of their spending to things that are currently either impossible or severely discouraged under lockdown, such as eating out, commuting and going on holiday. 

Yet for wealthier households, this sort of consumption represents a much bigger fraction of overall spending. As a result, the IFS says, these are “effectively forced into additional savings” under lockdown and as a result, more resilient to falls in income than less well-off households. 

Separate data capture the huge structural shift in consumption. Spending in restaurants plunged 94 per cent in the month of March, according to aggregated transactions from 3m UK users of the Revolut payment app.

Office worker favourites Pret A Manger and Itsu both saw the number of transactions fall by more than 80 per cent, compared with the previous month.

This week a colleague posted on Facebook that she had found the remains of a Pret croissant stuffed in the bottom of her handbag; a relic of what seemed like another era. 

Nevertheless, it is still possible to spend money while staying indoors. Challenger bank Revolut also recorded large increases in online gaming transactions (up over 100 per cent month-on-month), a 156 per cent increase for online card retailer Moonpig, a 21 per cent boost in transactions for Amazon and a small increase in subscriptions to streaming services Netflix and Spotify. 

The other big area of increased spending is grocery shopping. Revolut recorded a 40 per cent increase in transactions in local convenience store chains during March. While the number of supermarket transactions fell by roughly the same amount, the average spend per shop was 6 per cent higher, suggesting we are shopping less often but buying more. 

However, I am being contacted by increasing numbers of people who want to spend money on grocery shopping, but can’t. 

FT Money reader Sally is currently “shielding” due to a health condition and cannot leave her house for three months. After getting a text alert from the NHS, she registered via Gov.uk on March 23, saying she needed help with shopping — a system that is supposed to give the most vulnerable priority for online supermarket delivery slots.

She registered online with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, which all sent emails of acknowledgment. However, no offers of delivery slots have yet been forthcoming, and she is unable to get through to their customer helplines. 

Sally is now reliant on neighbours to bring her groceries, and while she’s grateful for this lifeline, she feels totally powerless. “Shopping is a really personal thing,” she says. “If I had a bit of control over what I could get delivered and when, I would feel so much less anxious.” 

My 75-year-old dad is also shielding. I had been ordering online groceries for him until delivery slots dried up. He managed to sign up with a local milkman (there’s evidently a revival going on) who also delivers bacon and potatoes, but he’s had better luck with the Gov.uk system — Asda has just offered him a regular weekly delivery. 

However, loyal FT Money reader Bruce doesn’t have an underlying health condition, and is finding that being in your 80s is no guarantee of a delivery slot in itself. 

“It should not be beyond the capability of supermarket bosses to design and set up a facility for the very elderly who are not on the NHS list, but nevertheless physically unable to get to a supermarket, stand in a queue for 55 minutes to get in, then queue to pay for their shopping and carry heavy bags home,” he says. I wholeheartedly agree. 

This is not to denigrate the incredible volunteer effort that is going on, and the abundance of neighbourhood Facebook and WhatsApp groups that are springing up. 

If you can’t give your time, then you could consider donating more of your spare cash to charity or subscribing to The Big Issue, which faces an uncertain future as it can no longer be sold on the streets. 

While I am enjoying the novelty of sitting down to home cooked lunches and dinners with my husband every day, we are both very sad that the usual family cooking frenzy for Easter and Passover will not happen as usual this year (I married into a Jewish family).

While we can’t share homemade food, we can share homemade cards. There are times when I just cannot bear to be online, on social media or checking my emails. Receiving a letter or card through the post is such a welcome and old-fashioned joy — well worth the 76p cost of a first-class stamp. 

Beyond that, those of us who are lucky enough to be earning money have a duty to go out and spend more of it supporting local businesses when restrictions are lifted. 

It turns out we can still spend our cash in our favourite restaurant, even though it has temporarily closed. Lardo in Hackney is selling a £50 “welcome back dinner” voucher via its website, redeemable on its reopening. It is also possible to donate your tip in advance, which will be passed on in full to its team of waiting staff (all of whom have been kept on).

This is a brilliant idea that deserves to be copied widely. And as much as we’re enjoying our home-cooked fare, I do find myself dreaming about their Margherita pizzas and fig Negronis.

Claer Barrett is the editor of FT Money, and a financial commentator on Eddie Mair’s LBC drive-time show, on weekdays between 4-6pm: claer.barrett@ft.com; Twitter @Claerb; Instagram @Claerb

— to www.ft.com

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