Trucks, Guns, and Computers: Americans’ Spending Priorities Have Shifted in Past Year

May 31, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2021

Americans have redirected more than a trillion dollars into purchases of trucks, computers, guns, and ammunition in the past year or so, consumer spending data indicate. This money is on top of what people were spending before the onset of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. To some degree, the sum reflects the increased prices of these products.

After governments locked down major parts of the economy around March last year, consumer spending dropped by almost 7 percent that month and another nearly 13 percent the next. Despite some recovery, the economy remained somewhat depressed for the rest of the year and only recovered to its previous trend in March and April, according to the Personal Consumption Expenditures data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Within those numbers, however, major shifts occurred as Americans reconsidered where to put their money.

Trucks

Spending on light trucks, a trend gaining momentum prior to the pandemic, had dropped at first with the lockdowns but then quickly recovered and rose to record highs by June 2020. It has continued to climb, soaring to more than $370 billion in April—nearly 54 percent above the June record.

Spending on used light trucks has followed a similar curve. After dipping in March and April 2020, it hit a record high by May 2020. This April, the spending reached nearly $175 billion—almost 44 percent above the May record.

That means Americans poured an additional $785 billion into trucks between March 2020 and April 2021 compared to what they would have spent if pre-pandemic spending patterns had continued.

Computers

Computers and their software, peripherals, and accessories were a predictable choice for the many Americans working from home or collecting unemployment during the pandemic. The initial months of lockdowns barely affected the spending, which soon after followed an upward trajectory and somewhat plateaued above $210 billion in March and April—more than 30 percent above February 2020.

If pre-pandemic spending patterns had continued, Americans would have spent some $420 billion less on computers between March 2020 and April this year.

Guns

Firearms and ammunition spending was barely affected in the first months of the pandemic before significantly increasing, the data indicate. Spending in this category reached about $120 billion in March and April of this year, which is more than 43 percent above February 2020.

The BEA combines gun and ammo spending with that of durable sporting equipment and supplies, so the figures can’t be fully attributed to firearms. Yet reports of ammo shortages and record gun sales leave little doubt that a major part of the spending is from this source.

If pre-pandemic trends continued, Americans would have spent nearly $290 billion less on guns, ammo, and sporting goods between March 2020 and April this year.

Other Spending Shifts

Other durable goods favored by Americans include furniture (about $150 billion extra spending); pleasure boats and other recreational vehicles (about $120 billion extra); jewelry (about $75 billion extra); and tools, hardware, outdoor equipment, and supplies (about $64 billion extra).

Among nondurables, the largest shift was the movement of about $1.6 trillion from indoor dining and drinking, which was virtually shut down during the pandemic, to Americans’ buying more food, drinks, and alcohol for home consumption. Americans also spent about $350 billion extra on pets, toys, and hobby items as well as some $200 billion extra on household supplies. Newspapers and other periodicals also garnered nearly $200 billion of extra spending. In fact, the pandemic period has greatly increased spending in this category, from about $56 billion per month in January and February 2020 to more than $77 billion per month in March and April this year.

Spending on clothes and shoes, on the other hand, dropped below the previous trend by some $700 billion in the period from March 2020 to April this year.

Inflation

Part of the increased spending included rising prices that appear to have particularly affected the areas with exceptional demand. New light trucks seemed among the least affected, at about 1.8 percent more expensive in April than in February the year before, BEA data show.

Used light trucks, however, hiked in price by more than 22 percent. Guns, ammo, and sporting equipment are up almost 4.7 percent. Furniture was up some 4.5 percent, and jewelry increased nearly 8 percent. Computers and peripheries are up some 1.8 percent. Gas prices have increased about 20 percent since mid-January 2020, according to data from the GasBuddy app.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab