Majority of Americans Cutting Back on Spending

by Lymari Morales

Including nearly two-thirds of families with children

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of Americans (55%) are cutting back on household spending as a result of recent problems in the stock markets and the economy, with 30- to 49-year-olds and families with children among those feeling the pinch most strongly.


A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Oct. 20 finds roughly two-thirds of Americans with children, whether married or not, say they are cutting back due to the country's economic problems. The same is true for Americans ages 30-49, who are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those in other age groups to say they are cutting back. Women are also more likely to be cutting back on spending than men, 61% to 48%, respectively.

The financial strain does not appear to be concentrated in certain parts of the country. In fact, Americans in all regions appear to be cutting back at about equal rates: 52% in the Midwest, 55% in the East, and 56% in the South and West.

Examining the topic further, the poll asked Americans in which specific areas they were cutting back and found significant numbers of Americans saying they are cutting back on eating out at restaurants (44%), entertainment like movies and concerts (40%), and travel for the holidays (34%). Those numbers may not seem that high, but are noteworthy considering only 55% of Americans say they have cut back on spending at all. Among those who are cutting back, a large majority have made cuts in these areas.


The findings could foretell tough times for the entertainment, hospitality, and travel sectors, as Americans cut back on more luxury spending to reserve more for basics. At the same time, it is important to note that the question did not ascertain if the respondent had previously spent or planned to spend in these areas, only if they were going to cut back on them. It is possible many Americans do not have household services such as maid or lawn service, or were not planning expensive holiday travel, thus explaining the relatively low percentages who say they are cutting back in these areas. Cable and cell phone service may be viewed as a utility for many Americans, who either already have just basic service in both areas, or for whom the possibility of cutting back is too daunting (and a proportion of Americans still do not have cable or cell phone service at all).

Christmas spending will, of course, provide a key measure of Americans' economic temperature. Overall, about the same percentage of Americans who, in this survey, said they are cutting back on household spending also say they will spend less than they had planned on Christmas gifts this year (56%), reinforcing the findings of a previous Gallup Poll, which pointed toward a tough holiday spending season ahead.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 20, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 524 adults who are cutting back on spending as a result of the problems with the economy and stock market, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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