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Poll: 4 in 10 U.S. adults willing to go into debt for indulgences

And as the pandemic begins to wind down, more than half plan to spend in at least one nonessential category


Lots of Americans plan to cut loose with money – including taking on debt for discretionary purchases – during the second half of 2021. If you spend big on nonessentials to celebrate pandemic restrictions easing, make a plan to pay off those purchases.

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As coronavirus pandemic restrictions ease, 44% of U.S. adults said that they will take on debt to “treat themselves,” according to a new poll.

The top areas in which respondents said they would be willing to accrue debt are automotive (15%), home renovations (14%) and travel (12%).

“After putting up with COVID for more than a year, I think everyone is entitled to treat themselves,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for

“However, I’m concerned that so many people are willing to go into debt as a result. Credit card rates have been creeping up, and they generally range from about 16% to 24%. That’s really expensive debt.”

In addition, 67% of survey takers said that they plan to spend more money in at least one discretionary category during the second half of 2021.

Those top five discretionary categories include travel (35%), out-of-home entertainment (26%), bars and restaurants (26%), home renovations (25%) and clothing and accessories (21%).

And overall, 66% of those who participated said that they plan to treat themselves with purchases to celebrate the pandemic winding down, even if they don’t have plans regarding how they’ll pay for them.

“Americans made tremendous progress paying down their credit card debt in 2020 and early 2021, with total balances falling 17%, according to the New York Fed,” Rossman said.

“Let’s keep the momentum going. Splurge with a portion of your paycheck, your stimulus money or other funds that you’ve saved up over the past year and try to resist the urge to accrue expensive credit card debt during the great reopening.”

See related: Consumer debt reached all-time high prior to coronavirus crisis – study

Credit card debt poll: Key findings

Here are some other notable results from our credit card debt poll:

  • Age weighed in: Of the 44% who said that they are willing to take on debt for discretionary purchases in the second half of 2021, 59% were millennials, 56% were Gen Zers, 40% were Gen Xers and 32% were baby boomers. In addition, 63% of parents with children under age 18 said that they’d go into debt for discretionary purchases compared with 40% with no children and 35% of parents with adult children.
  • Mars vs. Venus: The survey also revealed that men were more willing to go into debt for nonessentials (47%) than women (41%).

The survey of 2,663 U.S. adults was conducted online May 12–14, 2021. See survey methodology.

See related: Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief amid coronavirus outbreak

Save first, then treat yourself

Travis Holoway, CEO and co-founder of SoLo Funds, said that he wasn’t surprised that U.S. adults are looking forward to treating themselves in a big way given the economic uncertainty of the past year.

But now that we’re returning to a glimpse of normalcy, he said, the key to balancing savings and the occasional treat is to assess your finances – and first set aside savings for a rainy day.

Most people pay bills first, then treat themselves and then save, he explained, but the flaw in that approach is that saving what remains is often little to nothing.

“Treat your savings like a bill, then spend what remains without the guilt of overextending yourself and preventing future unexpected cash shortfalls that lead to debt,” Holoway said.

This will enable you to make sound financial choices when planning vacations and everyday entertainment, while still paying your bills and adding to your savings, he added.

The cost of many activities such as travel, dining out and out-of-home entertainment have substantially increased over the course of the pandemic. But Holoway still recommends looking for the best deals and working within your designated budget instead of living beyond your means.

Pent-up demand might overcorrect careful pandemic spending

Ilian Georgiev, CEO and co-founder of debt-management app Charlie, which teaches Americans the basics of all things money management, believes that you should have fun saving – and not make major sacrifices – to maintain a healthy financial diet.

He noted that the amount of credit card debt decreased during the pandemic, as everyone had to reassess their habits and spending.

But now as things are opening up, it is likely all that pent-up demand will come back and overcorrect in the opposite direction, which could be worrisome.

“I am optimistic, though, that things will then settle into a new, better normal,” Georgiev said.

Home schooling and childcare have taken a toll on parents

Sebastien Brault is CEO and co-founder of Wingocard, a new mobile banking app and debit card designed to promote financial literacy in teens.

He said that most of’s data aligns with what you would expect to see in a recovering economy where people are on revenge spending sprees coming out of lockdown. As a result of continued government stimulus, consumers now have $1.9 trillion more in their pockets than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Brault found it particularly interesting, however, that 63% of families with children under the age of 18 said that they are willing to take on debt for discretionary purchases.

He explained that as a parent himself, the stresses of home schooling and handling childcare during the pandemic were challenging, to say the least.

Many parents with minor children may be willing to take on debt for nonessentials because they’re ready and willing to indulge in any kind of spending that enables them to reconnect with extended family members – and each other – after a long time spent in lockdown, he said.

Bottom line

As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s natural to want to spend money on things we haven’t been able to for the past year.

The key to treating yourself and really enjoying it, however, lies in not overextending yourself to the point of being unable to pay for your fun in a timely manner. If you plan to spend up, do yourself a favor and figure out how you’ll pay for whatever treats you choose.

Survey methodology commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,663 adults. The survey was conducted online May 12–14, 2021.

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