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Americans are hoarding toilet paper again because of COVID fears, and it could cost them

Don't count on finding toilet paper on your next run to Target or Walmart:n COVID-19 panic buying is on a roll again


Americans are hoarding toilet paper again because of COVID fears, and it could cost them

Aimee Picchi
 |  Special to USA TODAY
Kid has strong words for people ‘hogging’ all the toilet paperSeven-year-old Janica is not happy that people are “hogging” toilet paper.USA TODAY, StoryfulStockpiling has become something of a national pastime as worries about a second pandemic wave this winter fuel a desire to store away groceries and supplies. But Americans say they aren’t done yet, and that behavior could cost them financially.One in 3 Americans say they are still planning on stocking up on pandemic-related supplies, according to a December study from LendingTree, which surveyed more than 1,000 people about their shopping habits and plans. Another one-third report they’ve already stocked up on groceries and household supplies, the survey found.That may not surprise shoppers who have once again encountered empty toilet paper shelves or ongoing restrictions from retailers such as Costco, which continues to limit some sought-after items like Clorox wipes to one package per customer.Stockpiling picked up in October as COVID-19 infections started rising – but the pandemic has only worsened since then because of holiday travel and colder weather. Stockpiling provides a psychological sense of comfort and preparedness during a crisis, experts say.Unemployment delays: Millions could face unemployment aid delays even after COVID-19 relief packagePricey Christmas trees:Stuck inside during COVID-19, Americans put up more Christmas trees this year, lifting prices“We see this with hurricanes, snowstorms and we see it with the pandemic and the prospect of going into a winter where things get even worse than they had been,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. “It is making people take some action to make sure that they are okay if there is a repeat of what we saw in the spring.”But those stockpiling behaviors can lead to some negative consequences, such as creating difficulties for others in search of essentials such as toilet paper and disinfectant. COVID-19 debtAnd there’s also a financial downside for people who are stocking up: Some are overspending and tumbling into debt, LendingTree found. Consumers say they recently spent an average of $359 on stocking up – or more than double the $178 they spent in the pandemic’s spring wave, LendingTree found.That’s creating a financial hole for some consumers as more than one-quarter reporting they’ve accrued credit card debt related to stocking up on pandemic supplies. “It’s important that people fight against those impulses and urges, and take a step back to understand what they need and what they might not,” Schulz says.To be sure, Americans are spending more on groceries and cleaning supplies in general – but they are also cutting back on travel and dining out during the pandemic, said Jon Berbaum, the president of research and tech firm Highland. Four in 10 Americans are staying at home more, and more than 6 in 10 are dining out less, its research found.“This is contributing to a higher overall spend on groceries at home,” Berbaum notes. “Grocery prices have also increased for staples such as meat, eggs, and poultry as well as everyday household goods.”No rainy day fundAnother downside: Almost half of Americans surveyed by Highland said they have run out of emergency funds, while 8 in 10 said they wouldn’t be able to afford an emergency $500 expense. While it’s not apples to apples, about 4 in 10 consumers before the pandemic said they couldn’t pay for a $400 emergency expense without borrowing it, according to research from the Federal Reserve. “Most Americans’ financial margin of error is so small that that extra $150 to $200 that they are spending on supplies is already going to make it harder for some people to keep to their budget,” Schulz says. Before stockpiling, financial experts advise consumers to take a few steps to avoid overspending or getting into debt.Make a budget for 2021The end of the year is a useful time to start budgeting if you haven’t yet started, notes Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at financial services company Credit Karma.“This is a perfect time to be thinking of your monthly expenses in general,” she notes. “Think about the habits you want to prioritize. Does it make sense to be stockpiling?”Make a list before shoppingDon’t get caught up buying items because they’re scarce or other people are grabbing them off the shelves. Prepare a list before you head to the store – making sure to check what you already have on hand in your house – and stick to it. “People forget they have stockpiled in the past” and may already have some of those supplies stored up, McCreary says. “Don’t buy the biggest package of toilet paper just because you assume you need to.”Don’t forget your emergency fundBuilding – or rebuilding – your emergency fund shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of stockpiling, financial experts note. “People need to understand they need to keep building their emergency fund,” says LendingTree’s Schulz. Even if it takes longer to pay down debt, it’s important to sock away some money into that account. Otherwise, he says, the next time you encounter an emergency, you could end up deeper in debt.

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