COVID-19 Europe Fintech

Survey Reveals British Spending and Saving Habits During Lockdown

A survey of more than 2,000 people by Atom bank found that over half of Brits have used shopping as a mechanism to cheer themselves up or reward themselves, yet 69% of self-confessed ‘spenders’ have experienced post-spending guilt.

The app-based bank also conducted a physical experiment to determine if shopping really can make humans happy, both mentally and biologically, revealing that post-shopping happiness is largely a psychological concept, with self-reported happiness levels increasing by 29% through shopping.

The research has been combined with expert insight from Mario Weick, Associate Professor of Quantitative Social Psychology at Durham University, to explore the myth that money can buy happiness, to find out if ‘spenders’ can become ‘savers’ and to discover if the months of lockdown have been long enough to change our habits for good.

Can money buy happiness?

The experiment found that 80% of participants’ heart rates were increased when shopping, with participants’ self-reported happiness levels also increasing.

Although shopping may seem like a fast-track way to boosting happiness, Weick warns that this effect only has a short-term impact.

He said: “People are reasonably good at predicting how something makes them feel, but poor at predicting how long those feelings will last. This durability bias can entice us to spend money because we are likely to overestimate how long a novel purchase can make us happy.”

Furthermore, participants’ heart rates when shopping were similar to their heart rates when taking a brisk walk, suggesting that if you are craving that ‘shopping high’, there are ways to achieve this that won’t harm your bank balance.

Spenders vs Savers

The survey revealed that 46% of Brits identify as ‘savers’, compared to ‘26%’ who identify as ‘spenders’. Of the ‘spenders’ and ‘savers’ in Atom’s experiment, the percentage increase of the ‘spenders’ heart rate (17%) when shopping was higher than that of the ‘savers’ (10%), showing that both psychologically and biologically, the spenders got more of a thrill from shopping.

However, there is still hope for even the most avid ‘spenders’, as experts say changing our spending habits is absolutely doable.

“The benefits of saving money materialise over time, so focusing on a future goal can make it easier to save money, whereas focusing on the here and now may encourage spending. The key to encouraging saving is to make it easy, sociable and fun,” said Weick.

Can we change our habits for good?

The survey shows that 44% of us plan to take advantage of this year’s Black Friday sales, putting ourselves in danger of reversing the new savings habits many Brits are reported to have picked up over lockdown.

Weick continued: “Habits depend on the repetition of behaviour and can form in a relatively short space of time. Habitual behaviour is triggered by the context or a stimulus in the environment, so the big question is whether saving habits can be sustained once lockdown ceases.

“The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and affected people’s optimism. When optimism increases, consumer spending tends to increase too. In other words, once things get back to ‘normal’, we will likely see a return to greater spending.”

The Psychological Impact of Saving

75% of Brits believe that saving £1,000 would make them happier than spending £1,000, suggesting that being in control of our expenditure is the true key to long term financial happiness.

Weick comments: “The evidence suggests that neither extreme spending nor extreme frugality are pathways to happiness. Uncontrolled spending can cause guilt and debt. On the other hand, being overly frugal can be burdensome and can cause excessive worries about spending money.

“A healthy balance between restraint and allowing oneself some pleasure and spontaneity is probably an optimal strategy to boost happiness. Saving some income, while giving oneself a spending allowance really does appear to be the golden formula.”

Edward Twiddy, Chief Customer Officer at Atom bank said: “With the huge changes we’ve seen in the financial climate this year as a result of Covid 19, it’s more crucial than ever before for people to understand their finances and how to get the most out of their earnings.

“Through our research, we want to highlight the value and importance of spending money on things that will bring long term happiness. Trips away, being together, experiencing something new and shared fun are crucial for each of us, but their cost can sometimes make them appear beyond reach.

“So we wanted to show that these life-affirming moments are possible, whatever you might be able to afford. With products such as our Instant Saver account you can open a savings account with £0, get the same great rate no matter how much you save, and not face any limits or penalties on withdrawals. With the benefits of saving for something special really clear, we’re aiming to make the whole process easy, accessible and rewarding for everyone.”


  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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