Economy

Americans' Reported Spending Down 40% From Last Year

by Lydia Saad

Three-quarters say they are cutting back

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to Gallup Poll Daily tracking, Americans, on average, spent $61 per day in stores, restaurants, gas stations, or online in the 14-day period ending Feb. 11. Spending is down 40% from the $102 average for the same two-week period a year ago.

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These figures are based on Americans' self-reports of the total amount they spent the prior day on purchases other than a home, motor vehicle, or their normal monthly bills.

The current average spending figure is nearly the lowest Gallup has recorded since the measure was established in January 2008. Although reported spending has been going down fairly steadily since late September, the 14-day average spending figure fell below $60 last week for the first time, to $58, and has since held close to that level.

Year-to-year spending has dropped sharply at every major income level.

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Separately, a Jan. 30-Feb. 1 USA Today/Gallup poll found three-quarters of Americans (74%) saying they have cut back on their spending in the last six months because of concerns about their household income. Thirty-eight percent of Americans say they have cut back "a lot" and 36% have cut back "a little."

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Upper-income Americans (those earning $75,000 or more per year) are less likely than those living in middle- and lower-income households to say they have cut back a lot, but they are more likely to have cut back a little. As a result, the percentage saying they have not cut back at all is close to 25% at every income level.

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Bottom Line

Consumer confidence was in decline for much of 2008, and plummeted after the banking crisis started in September. Since then, confidence has remained low, and Gallup has found mounting negative perceptions among U.S. workers about the hiring conditions at their places of employment. From January through November 2008, Gallup's hiring measure consistently found more workers saying their companies were hiring than saying their companies were letting people go. However, by December, more said their companies were cutting staff. The measure has remained negative on balance in 2009.

Sharply falling gas prices from late September through much of December could account for some of the decline in household spending late last year. However, since January, gas prices have increased, while spending has continued to trend downward. It seems clear that, compounding the already-weak state of consumer confidence in place last year, the deteriorating jobs climate has been affecting Americans' confidence in their future income stream, if not causing them real financial distress, and this has caused Americans to pull back on their spending.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,027 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2009. 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.

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

The latest consumer spending results are based on telephone interviews with roughly 500 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted each day from Jan. 29-Feb. 11, 2009 as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For the $61 average daily spending estimate based on the total sample of approximately 7,000 national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±$6.

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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