Survey: Money Goals in Flux Under Pressure of Pandemic

A majority surveyed say 2020 had a big effect on financial plans: Many were derailed, but some were achieved early.
Elizabeth Renter
By Elizabeth Renter 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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From jobs to vacations, 2020 had a way of derailing our best-laid plans. And according to a new survey from NerdWallet, financial goals often took a hit. But the impact on those goals won’t deter everyone from giving them a go again in 2021.

Most U.S. adults (84%) started 2020 with financial goals, according to the NerdWallet survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll. But about four-fifths (81%) of those with goals at the start of the year say those aspirations were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of the key findings from that survey, including how Americans are thinking about their money goals in the year to come.

The pandemic put financial goals on hold for many

Among those with 2020 financial goals at the start of the year:

  • 29% say the pandemic forced them to put some of those goals on hold and they’re “not sure when I’ll be able to pick them up again.”

  • 29% say the pandemic forced them to put some of those goals on hold until 2021.

  • 16% say the pandemic pushed them to achieve some of those goals sooner than they had planned.

Many will not achieve 2020 money goals at all

Of those with 2020 financial goals at the start of the year:

  • 37% said they will not achieve those goals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 35% will achieve their goals despite the pandemic.

  • 17% predicted they will exceed their goals despite the pandemic.

Pandemic spurs new money habits

  • 85% of U.S. adults say they developed financial habits during the pandemic (either habits that were completely new or existing habits they improved upon).

  • 96% of those who developed such habits plan to continue them into 2021.

  • Among those who developed financial habits in 2020, the most commonly cited ones they plan to continue in 2021 include: cutting back spending on “wants” such as entertainment or a gym membership (58%), cutting back travel spending (40%), and sticking to a budget (39%).

Many cautiously optimistic about money goals in 2021

  • 83% of U.S. adults say they have financial goals for 2021.

  • 80% of those with 2021 financial goals say they feel confident in their ability to achieve them.

  • However, 86% of those with 2021 financial goals recognize something — such as the uncertainty of the pandemic (53%), effects of the presidential and congressional election outcomes (36%) or general uncertainty about the best resources to help them achieve their goals (19%) — could prevent their achievement.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, 2020, among 2,047 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Madison Gouveia at [email protected].