Officials in more than a dozen states, as well as a growing number of cities and counties, have urged Americans to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Some have even passed "shelter-in-place" guidelines that require residents to stay at home unless they are doing essential tasks like going to the doctor or buying food. To prepare for extended time at home, Americans are stocking up on groceries — and many are going a step further and doing what experts call panic buying.
As of last week, toilet paper sales had increased 212.7% from the previous year, according to data from a Nielsen representative. Dried bean sales increased 230.5%, rice sales increased 166.1%, and soup sales increased 126.6%.
Although it's smart to prepare, shopping in a panic leads some shoppers to hoard groceries, says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of "Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy." That means shoppers are buying more than they need, spending more than they'd like, and potentially keeping valuable resources away from others.
Here's what causes panic shopping, and how to avoid buying more than necessary.
"What we're trying to do is gain a sense of control," Yarrow says. "We're looking for things to do to make it look like we are managing this situation."
Panic buying is when consumers buy large quantities of product in anticipation of, or after, a disaster. In this case, one of the only places Americans can go right now is the grocery store.
Likewise, there aren't many steps you can take to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. That may be why you see shoppers putting inordinate amounts of beans or toilet paper or pasta boxes in their cart — there aren't many other ways people can feel prepared or like they've done something proactive.
Shopping habits also tend to have a ripple effect, Yarrow says: Shoppers often allow what they see in another person's cart to inform what they are buying for themselves. This is especially true when it comes to taking care of others. No one wants to run out of food for their family.
"More people think we should take the risk [of hoarding and] buying too much stuff rather than be the person who can't feed their kids," she says.
But, especially as unemployment numbers climb, it's increasingly important for many people to stick to a budget and not overspend out of fear. While buying two weeks' worth of groceries is appropriate, Yarrow says, anything more is a sign that they are letting stress make decisions for them. When someone starts hoarding, "they're not really in control; their anxiety is in control."
It's easy to overspend at the grocery store and buy more than you can afford or more than you'll actually use. Here's how to keep yourself from buying too much.
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