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Some pandemic shopping is simply about finding ways to feel good during a difficult time

Source: Jessica Kennedy

Shopping during the pandemic can run the gamut from panic-buying of canned sardines to scooping up a coop's worth of lively chickens. 

Some retail sprees in the era of Covid-19 are simply about finding ways to feel good during a difficult time — and people have wildly personal ways of doing that. 

"I over-prepared," said Sarah Wilson, 32, a personal finance blogger.

The reason? It gave her a much-needed feeling of control when no one knew exactly what was going on.

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Wilson's own past experience with weather disasters has helped shape her disaster preparedness skills. A high school student living near the Gulf Coast of Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Wilson had to evacuate with just a backpack. In her 20s, she lived in coastal cities and quickly learned that grocery shelves clear out at the first sign of a tornado.

"I started stocking up for emergencies," she said. "What if the power goes out? What if we can't cook? What if we need water?"

These days, even though she lives in relatively calm College Station, Texas, she keeps an emergency food kit in her closet with 72 hours' worth of food based on FEMA recommendations.

Wilson uses a bucket from Lowe's like this one for $3.25 (lids sold separately). Pinterest is another goldmine of information and suggestions for assembling supplies.

Keep kids hopping

At some point, though, Covid-19 shopping started being less about the ingredients for sheer survival. Parents have had their hands full, especially when working from home and looking after kids who were no longer physically attending school.

A $185 bounce house was a spending win, says Lindsay Z., 35, who works in accounting in South Florida. The point was to "tire out a toddler while mom and dad try to both work full time and keep our 2-year-old stimulated, entertained and tired enough to nap."

VIDEO1:3601:36
Laughing through a pandemic

Retail therapy

A $98 hand-painted silk robe might not seem like a necessity, but Sarah Quinn, 34, says it was the best purchase. Also, she says, it was on sale. "I bought the robe because working from home with two small children is brutal," said Quinn, who works in sales in Atlanta. "I needed a little luxury to look forward to each morning."

"Our dragon-boat racing season got canceled because of Covid-19," said Maritza Hernandez, 39, a financial coach in San Diego.

For just under $1,000, Hernandez bought a used roof rack for her car and two kayaks ($380, including paddles and life vests).  "I'm so excited," she said. "Most of our team bought kayaks to hit the water together while social distancing."

Rainy days

Pandemic spending and shopping definitely underscores the importance of an emergency fund.

A cash reserve allowed Wilson to spend $400 on groceries when items were limited and prices were higher. "I knew I wouldn't go into debt," she said. "I could pay bills.

"I could spend on food without adding an additional worry to the suit," Wilson added.

"I think this pandemic has taught people that they should have a larger financial cushion," said Allison Tom, 50, a personal finance author in San Francisco.

Ron Antonelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"We've always felt like six months was the bare minimum," Tom said. "Now it feels like nine to 12 months would be more ideal."

Tom admits to panic food shopping that she regrets. When California announced people would need to shelter in place, she doubled down on canned or jarred food. Now, "what am I going to do with 12 tins of sardines, [marinated] artichokes, or six-pound cans of fruit salad or mixed veggies?" she asked.

But her shopping was motivated by healthy eating: The canned vegetable section at Costco was completely empty, she recalls. "At this point, I was starting to freak out that we weren't going to be able to find any fruits or vegetables," she said.

Quarantining with chickens

Jessica Kennedy's son Mark, 5, checks on the chickens every morning and every night.
Source: Jessica Kennedy

Jessica Kennedy, 32, has zero regrets about the chickens she bought for $85. She got 17 just-hatched chicks that are now thriving.

"I have time alone now when I muck out the coop," said Kennedy, who works in health-care research in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

"I get to take care of animals with my kids and teach them responsibility," she added. "Probably one of the best purchases I've ever made — ever."

She draws the line, however, at the goats her husband wants.

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