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Rangely Garcia / Money

With a busy life in Los Angeles, Anna McKitrick has trouble saving. The 25-year-old waitress and aspiring actress estimates she spends $200 a month on coffee, snacks, on-the-go meals, and other purchases she could live without.

Now thanks to the coronavirus, McKitrick is stuck in her childhood home in New Jersey, living rent-free for the foreseeable future — and using the opportunity to permanently kick her impulse spending habit.

Without bills to pay and thanks to a surprisingly large tax refund, she’s already saved several thousand dollars. She says she’s also reevaluated what is actually important to her. “I just realized how much money I was wasting instead of putting it towards my priorities, like building a bigger emergency fund and paying for experiences I want to have,” says McKitrick.

It’s no secret that Americans struggle to save for the future. A study from JPMorgan Chase found that about two-thirds of us do not have the recommended six weeks of take home pay set aside for an emergency. And a recent Money/Synchrony Bank study revealed that 36% of people earning between $75,000 and $100,000 still worry about unexpected expenses. But now the coronavirus is forcing millions of people to cut down on unnecessary spending in a way that they’ve never been able to before.

According to data from Earnest Research, U.S. restaurant spending is down 30%, as millions of locked-down Americans cook at home. Travel is down 80%, as long-awaited vacations get postponed. Spending at movie theaters, sporting events and arts festivals is down almost 100%.

Last quarter Americans deposited more than one trillion dollars in savings accounts, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis — that’s four times as much as they usually do in a three-month period. Now the question for millions of Americans is how to keep saving once the enforced virtue of sheltering in place ends.

“We’re really saving now because we don’t have any choice,” says Diane Swonk, Chief Economist at Grant Thornton. “The economic collapse happened before even one state had closed, so the pullback is more related to fear factor than responsibility.”

What History Says