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18 People Shared How The Pandemic Year Changed Their Finances And It's Eye-Opening

"I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that I literally couldn't work. I felt like a failure."

It's officially been a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, changing so much about our daily lives. And for many of us, that included our finances.

Man wearing a mask stands outside a shuttered business
Newsday Llc / Getty Images

To mark the anniversary of this long, strange, and difficult year, I asked the BuzzFeed Community to share how the pandemic has affected their finances. Here are their stories:

1. "I was lucky enough to stay employed at one of my jobs while the other was closed all but two weeks for a whole year (restaurant)."

Grocery store worker sanitizing an aisle of his store
Education Images/Universal Image / Getty Images

"The restaurant was my main moneymaker, $400–500 a shift. Then my position got eliminated at the store of my main job so I scrambled to find a store with my position open. Luckily I did, but it was 40 miles away so I had to break my lease and move."

"The restaurant reopened last month and now I have a year of lost income to make up for. I’m slowly paying down the debt I got myself into. If president Jojo Beans would run me my fucking check, I could pay off more and breathe lighter. But I’m not waiting for it. I literally can’t afford groceries most of the time. So I survive off oatmeal."

fyeahrandaj

Many people have faced food insecurity during this past year, but younger generations were hit the hardest. According to a survey by Credit Karma, about 25% of people polled during the past year said they'd dealt with food insecurity during the pandemic. But if you look at the numbers by generation, about 48% of Gen Z'ers and 33% of Millennials said they have experienced food insecurity during the pandemic. If you're facing food insecurity, government programs and mutual aid groups may be able to help.

2. "Financially we are doing fine. Because of the nature of our work, my husband and I have been making significantly less money over the last year but we've made some hard choices. We no longer have any kind of streaming services or internet at home. No subscription boxes. No eating takeout. It's been an adjustment but our bank account hasn't suffered too much. We're very fortunate to have had extra expenses that we COULD cut."

—Anonymous

3. "I'm an aesthetician, and I was working at a high-end luxury spa in early 2020. When the pandemic hit in March, business slowed to a crawl and each day was, "You don't have clients. Don't worry about coming in," for 2 weeks until spas/salons were finally shuttered."

Nail technicians giving clients manicures at outdoor tables
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"Honestly, at this point I started therapy; I was raised with the mentality that you should always have a job, keep working, and all of a sudden I had nothing to do. I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that I literally couldn't work. I felt like a failure. I had the foresight to apply for unemployment early on and thank goodness, because I just started receiving benefits by the time lockdown hit.

I did not get rehired when spas reopened. The beauty industry kind of died down in general at that point in the pandemic so I couldn't find a job. My fiancé and I discussed some things and made the decision that I would go to work for myself and concentrate on building my own specialized aesthetics business. His job in IT transitioned to work from home so he never missed a beat.

When the government let extended unemployment lapse, we had to have another financial conversation. My amazing fiancé basically said he was prepared to support both of us and all our expenses as long as we did some budgeting and made smart choices. I know I'm blessed to have this man in my life, but I never, EVER in my adult life thought I'd let someone else support me, even in marriage! This pandemic basically forced me to rely financially on my significant other, reevaluate my own personal expectations of myself, and accept that it's OK to have help."

—Anonymous

4. "I moved home before the pandemic started. I was supposed to save to do some traveling or *whisper it* change jobs, but since the pandemic and working from home, I’ve saved so much money as I’m only properly shopping for food every couple weeks as opposed to daily! I was able to buy a car and give a deposit, pay all my car insurance, and pay off my credit card."

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5. "When my entire family tested positive, I had a serious panic attack realizing I had no immediate debit to cover necessary expenses. After we recovered, all the foregone expenses due to closures, limited socializing, and the trauma of ever finding myself in that situation ever again became snowball debt payments. I’m going onto month 10 of debt payments and only 4 more until I am entirely debt-free. All the while, I have also been aggressively saving so that if something scary ever happens again, I am better equipped to take care of it. Be prepared!"

Young boy getting tested for coronavirus
Mario Tama / Getty Images

—Anonymous

The debt snowball method this commenter is using can be a great way to slash your debt. To start, you'll need to make a list of all of your debts and the minimum monthly payments on each. Next, figure out if you can pay a bit more toward your debt than the minimums and put that extra amount toward paying off your smallest debt. When that debt is paid off, ~snowball~ the money you've been paying toward your next-smallest debt, and so on. If you're interested in trying it out, NerdWallet has a handy calculator you can use to help plan your payments.

6. "I’m fortunate to be a salaried employee and an essential worker. But still, I’m paycheck to paycheck and every time my savings finally builds up, an emergency happens. Having student loans suspended, I was able to replace my hot water heater and siding that’s been damaged for a few years. I’m working now to save for future emergencies and prepare for when student loans return."

jaimielrandall

By the way, federal student loan payments are currently suspended through Sept. 30, 2021. The freeze doesn't include private student loans because they aren't owned by the government, but you can contact your loan servicer to discuss your options if you've been struggling to make payments.

7. "I was privileged enough to have a job that transitioned to full-time WFH with little effect, and I was able to keep it and was even lucky enough to get a raise in 2020."

Woman working in her home office
San Francisco Chronicle / Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

"I'm also lucky that my family lives close and we were able to form a bubble. And they help watch my kids (we pay, but way less than for a real nanny) while both my husband and I work. Not a lot of mothers have had the same options that I have."

"I say all this because PRIVILEGED PEOPLE do not think that it can never happen to you. Your security can vanish in an instant. You aren't smarter, better, more deserving than those who suffered greatly last year. You’re just luckier. Save whatever you can! Always have a plan A, B, C, on down to Z, because, again, alllllll the shit you have can be wiped out due to circumstances outside of your control. Stay vigilant and agile AT ALL TIMES. I've lost a few family members to COVID-19 this year. Everything is so unpredictable and terrible. Keep pushing everyone and good luck!"

queenavocado

8. "At the very beginning of the pandemic, I was furloughed for three months; although we all knew there was no guarantee of anything. I’d seen the writing on the wall and had been applying for other jobs."

"I got a temp gig with a tech startup, which helped keep things together. And then my husband’s salary was cut by 20%, although we knew we were lucky he kept his job at all: travel industry."

"Fortunately I did well in my temporary job, and they converted me to permanent. My husband’s salary went back to normal in the new year, so in spite of having a stressful, scary 2020, 2021 is looking up."

—Anonymous

9. "I'll be the first person to admit my privilege and that I actually benefited financially. Last March, I was finishing my master's and earning a whole $1,000/month as a grad assistant. I was burnt out, and doing the math, I would not have had a dollar to my name by the end of April."

Healthcare worker giving a patient an injection
San Francisco Chronicle / Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

"But, with school shutting down, I moved back in with my boyfriend and saved my last month of rent/utilities. My student and car loans were frozen, and I got to finish my degree online. As a healthcare provider, I had career prospects and ended up finding a job in June and started earning about $3,500/month. Because I'm still living like I did in grad school, I was able to get a jump on my savings, student loans, and car loan once they started collecting again.

Once again, I was extremely lucky. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing those who got screwed get a measly $1800 over a year from the government as "assistance" and scramble to make ends meet. With the extra income I have now, I always make sure to donate to food banks, tip extra when I order out, and the very least I do is be kind and grateful to those who are not in good positions but still are essential to my survival (grocery store employees, bank tellers, delivery people, etc.). Because I was so close to being in their shoes, and it was very scary."

michaelababineau14

10. "Before COVID-19, I wasn't making a ton of money as a preschool teacher but at least I had a steady job. Last March, the center shut down for a few weeks when the pandemic began."

"Even when it reopened, I couldn't go back to work because my kids' schools stayed remote and I'm a single mom with nobody else to take care of them.

"I've been doing freelance transcription work from home and I am very grateful for that income. But it's not a lot. It's been a year now and I still haven't been able to go back to work. Meanwhile my ex-husband's finances have been affected not at all. From what I've seen, in most cases, the pandemic has had a much more significant impact on mothers' job situations than fathers'."

miss_tee

Factors like needing to stay home with kids during remote schooling have affected more women than men. For example, in September 2020, some 1.1 million people left the workforce: 80% of them were women.

11. "I'm lucky that I haven't been unemployed this past year, but I've become an absolutely religious saver. I used to save here and there when I remembered to; now I'm putting as much as I can into multiple savings accounts, and I budget and save for absolutely everything."

Empty office workspace closed due to the coronavirus
Boston Globe / Getty Images

"It probably seems like overkill because I'm in a really good place financially, but I knew so many people who were earning way more than me pre-pandemic that were left scrambling last year. Now, if I get laid off or the murder hornets come back or something, I will be ok."

emilym4e8497a33

Credit Karma's survey found that a majority of Americans made an effort to save more during the pandemic, with 84% reporting that they'd stashed away at least $300. As an FYI, financial advisers recommend keeping an emergency fund stocked with enough cash to cover three to six months' worth of your bare-bones expenses so you don't have to rely as much on debt in case of unexpected bills or lost income. If you're not a big saver (or could just use a refresher), check out these tips to grow your emergency fund.

12. "To be honest, the pandemic taught me how to be financially independent. I graduated college in 2020 right after the initial lockdown and my parents paid for everything up until then. I worked at a restaurant during the entirety of the pandemic, which resulted in my being broke for most of it. Bad tips and scarce hours resulted in being broke almost the entire year as I struggled to pay rent. Luckily, I’m on the other side of it way smarter with the money I’ve worked so hard for."

—Anonymous

13. "I’ve recently graduated university and moved to a new country (the UK) to be with my fiancé; however, as soon as I moved, lockdown hit. I’m currently looking for a new job but haven’t found anything for three months."

Traveler walking through empty section of London's airport
Justin Tallis / Getty Images

"I’m also unable to claim any government aid as I’m not a UK citizen. I guess that’s fair enough but I’m also not really able to return home either, due to the pandemic and the expense of COVID-19 hotels and quarantine. I’m stuck until I find a job.

"I never expected to graduate and to be looking for work with half of an entire country. At this point, I’ve applied for over 100 jobs and had just one callback. I feel like millennials used to complain about bachelor's degrees earning Starbucks jobs or boring office jobs, but I’d honestly be lucky to have that much job security. After three months of unemployment, me and my fiancé now have less than £200 between us. So, yeah. Student debt and rent are accumulating and I have no idea what to do. I’m so thankful I’ve had some family help, but I never wanted to rely on them as much as I have. There needs to be more financial aid for young people."

—Anonymous

14. "My fiancé has had depression and PTSD for a long time. The pandemic really hit him hard, making his illnesses worse. He became suicidal and quit his job to start group therapy. His job didn’t offer disability or FMLA so he had to quit. He applied for unemployment with a physician note stating he’s unable to work. He hasn’t found work, is still suicidal, and has $0 money incoming. My salary alone cannot support us. Everything is hard and sad lately."

—Anonymous

The past year has been rough on many people's mental health. Throughout the pandemic, roughly 1 in 4 adults who responded to the Household Pulse Survey said that they'd experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a counselor 24/7. It's free and confidential.

15. "I used to bake for restaurants, but the money I earned did not earn a livable wage. When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t bake and I don’t qualify for unemployment."

Masked worker frosting a cake in a restaurant kitchen
Medianews Group / Getty Images

"I recently graduated from college and had zero luck in landing a job. I never made it past the first-round interviews (I’m on the autism spectrum and I’m very awkward). My options are limited because I can only work remotely due to still living with my parents who are high-risk for COVID-19 complications. It’s hard to find any remote work with a degree in nutrition.

"I am regretting my major and am going to grad school in the fall to get a more-worthwhile degree in social work and/or public health. However, grad school is not cheap and I would like to earn money so it’s not all on my parents. I would also like to move out one day and be independent, as I’ve outgrown my house and the limited space."

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16. "In late 2019, I chose to go part-time because I began pursuing my master's, and chose to supplement my income with extra tutoring jobs. It’s been tough because it’s a feast or famine situation: I work like crazy when things are going well and no one is getting sick, but I lose a lot of income when someone (including myself) needs to go into quarantine or self-isolate. On the other hand, I’m saving a lot of money by not going out to eat or traveling."

—Anonymous

17. "I don't want to be *THAT* guy but I feel like someone has to bring the counterpoint. I have, actually, thrived financially during the pandemic. I work in the mortgage industry. We were considered essential workers and never missed any work."

Masked people entering house with a "for sale" sign
Xinhua News Agency / Getty Images

"With interest rates at historic lows this past year, business has been booming for us. TONS of people refinancing or buying. We've been so busy that we've been able to hire three additional employees. Add to that, over the past year, I've gotten a raise, a bonus, and am accruing 10–15 hours of overtime pay every week. It's allowed me to pay off debt and kick my retirement savings into overdrive."

—Anonymous

Interest rates are incredibly low at the moment: 2.81% for February 2021, according to Freddie Mac. To put that in perspective, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.54% in 2018, 3.94% in 2019, and 3.11% in 2020. If you're thinking about buying a home, we recently debunked some common myths and misconceptions about the process.

18. And "I've always been diligent about putting money into savings with every paycheck; however, since the start of the pandemic, I've been significantly scaling down the amount I put away. I've seen how short life can be and have been purchasing things for my friends, family, house, and given to charity more than I have in the last three years combined. Not heavily saving for a future that may not come to pass has also taught me to enjoy every moment now."

—Anonymous

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Has the pandemic affected your finances? If you feel comfortable sharing your story, tell us about it in the comments below or via this anonymous Google form.

And for more on money matters, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.

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