2023 Q4 Report: How U.S. Households Handle Emergency Expenses

November 2023

Report summary

This report highlights key findings from the latest wave of Morning Consult’s Quarterly Survey of Household Emergency Expenses and Decisionmaking, run in collaboration with Bloomberg News. The report complements the data and analysis available on Morning Consult’s SHEED website.

More U.S. adults are relying on debt to cover unexpected expenses such as home repairs, vehicle repairs or medical emergencies. While most households continue to find a way to pay for unexpected expenses when they occur, fewer are able to do so with cash alone since the previous quarter, suggesting growing strain on household budgets. 

Key Takeaways

  • Most consumers who incurred emergency expenses remain committed and able to pay them, but the unexpected cost is putting a growing strain on budgets as fewer pay with cash and more rely on debt.
  • A trend toward higher debt usage for emergency expenses is showing up across income and generational groups, but Gen Zers stood out, with the largest downward trend in ability to cover costs with cash.
  • The share of expenses covered with cash declined for all categories, including medical costs, home and vehicle repairs, and education and child care — despite median expense amounts falling.

About the authors

A headshot photograph of Kayla Bruun
Kayla Bruun
Senior Economist

Kayla Bruun is a senior economist at decision intelligence company Morning Consult, where she analyzes consumer spending, inflation and household finance trends, leveraging the company’s proprietary high-frequency data.

Prior to joining Morning Consult, Kayla was a key member of the corporate strategy team at telecommunications company SES, where she produced market intelligence and industry analysis of mobility markets. 

Kayla also served as an economist at IHS Markit, where she covered global services industries, provided price forecasts, produced written analyses and served as a subject-matter expert on client-facing consulting projects. 

Kayla earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Emory University and an MBA with a certificate in nonmarket strategy from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Follow her on Twitter @KaylaBruun. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected]

A headshot photograph of Sofia Baig
Sofia Baig

Sofia Baig is an economist at decision intelligence company Morning Consult, where she works on descriptive and predictive analysis that leverages Morning Consult’s proprietary high-frequency data. Previously, she worked for the Federal Reserve Board as a quantitative analyst, focusing on topics related to monetary policy and bank stress testing. She received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pomona College and a master’s degree in mathematics and statistics from Georgetown University.

Follow her on Twitter @_SofiaBaig_For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected]