People find new ways to spend vacation money in today's 'homebody economy'

If there was ever a time to invest in the comforts of home, it's now.
an asian chinese mid adult female painting her living room, apartment renovation during sunset
Vacation got canceled? Many homeowners are taking that cash and putting it back into their homes.chee gin tan / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW
By Rheana Murray

A pool in the backyard? A fresh coat of paint on the deck? For some people flush with funds from canceled vacations due to the coronavirus pandemic, that's exactly the plan.

A new survey shows nearly one-third of homeowners are using money previously set aside for travel and spending it on home improvements — doing everything from small updates to large renovations.

What are people spending vacation money on?

Half of those homeowners said they're putting the funds towards structural repairs, such as a basement renovation or a new roof, according to the survey of 1,878 people from Groundworks, a home services company. About 30% said they're putting the money toward outdoor entertaining, such as a new dining set on the patio. And the rest said they're spending the money on home additions, creating an at-home gym or even installing a new pool.

For Saleena Sidhu of New York City, spending money from her family's canceled summer vacation on apartment updates was a no-brainer.

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"We have obviously been spending a lot of time at home, and we have two boys who have totally destroyed the apartment," Sidhu said. "And since school is going to be fully at home for the first month, we decided to renovate their room and their bathroom. We're adding additional shelving and a desk, and a little more storage space and countertop space in the bathroom."

"We usually go to Italy for two weeks every summer — my husband is Italian — but since that's not going on this year, we decided to use those funds for this," she added.

With the whole family at home more than usual, Sidhu said she was trying to find ways to make their city apartment feel more functional and organized.

She's not alone. With colder months ahead and the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 looming, many people are choosing to invest in their homes. While the pandemic has caused financial strife for many — figures from May showed that nearly 40 million Americans lost their jobs — some lucky people found themselves with a little extra cash after a canceled trip.

And with the average, all-in cost of a vacation more than $1,000 per person, according to Groundworks, those people may find they now have the cash to put toward home improvements.

The virus has fueled what Nielsen calls the "homebody economy," in which people amp up their online shopping and allocate funds to items that will make their homes more comfortable. Research from McKinsey & Company this summer showed that Americans were spending more on household supplies, home entertainment and groceries, but pulling back on spending for nearly everything else.

Laura Schocker, the editor-in-chief of Apartment Therapy, said her site has been seeing record traffic, with many people searching for DIY home improvements.

"We're seeing people fall into three buckets," she said. "One is the necessities — people are working from home and might need a more sustainable office space or work space, for example. Some people are just bored at home and looking for projects to keep them busy. And the last bucket of people are like, 'I'm not going to have a change of scenery for maybe a year, so how can I make my home feel more like a staycation?'"

No vacation money? No problem

Of course, not everyone has extra cash lying around. For people who are working on a budget but eager to feel like they're on vacation, Schocker has these very easy tips for making any space feel a little more hotel-like.

  • Make your bed. Seriously, just do it.
  • Speaking of bed, invest in some crisp, white sheets. New linens always feel luxurious.
  • Clean up the clutter.
  • Light a scented candle.
  • Consider blackout window treatments. "They make you feel like you're staying someplace that's not home," Schocker said.
  • Look at your lighting. A dimmer can go a long way.

An interesting consequence of the pandemic is that people are thinking more carefully about what "home" means and what we all need from our living spaces. So whether the changes you make are big or small, it's clear that as long as they make you love your space even more, they'll be well worth it.