New normal seems to be less spending
PRINCETON, NJ -- New Gallup polling shows that Americans are closely monitoring their daily family expenditures, with 71% saying they are cutting back on their spending and 88% saying they are watching their spending very closely. This is despite the fact that 78% of Americans say they have enough money to satisfy their basic needs, and a much smaller 21% say they worried "yesterday" that they spent too much money.
These conclusions, based on samples of more than 2,300 respondents from Gallup Poll Daily tracking interviews conducted June 8-27, suggest that Americans may have reached a "new normal" of lessened expectations.
Overall, the results show that Americans have complex attitudes and emotions about their spending patterns in today's economic environment. There is clear evidence that Americans are concerned about their spending, and report adjusting the amount they spend downward. These self-reports confirm the finding from Gallup's Daily tracking of consumer spending, which shows that average daily expenditures are down significantly from where they were a year ago. Still, it appears that even with this lower level of spending, or perhaps because of it, most Americans do not appear to be anxiety ridden as they go about their daily lives. Most apparently don't worry about spending too much money, and most say they have enough money to buy the things they need.
Indicative of the generally positive state of affairs, a majority of 56% of Americans indicate that they are "feeling pretty good these days about the amount of money [they] have to spend."
These data don't allow for firm conclusions about the future. It is possible that this new normal behavior will continue in the years ahead regardless of changes in the economy, or it is possible that Americans will recalibrate their spending upward once the economy improves. Previous Gallup polling has shown that a majority of those who say they are spending less in the current economy claim that they will continue this new frugality even when the current economic climate improves.
A Minority Still Worries
The above analysis highlights the fact that -- despite lowering spending -- the majority of Americans are not worrying about their spending on a daily basis and have enough money to get by. In other words, the United States is apparently not facing a situation in which the majority of the population is fighting for its existence without enough money to survive on a daily basis.
At the same time, the good news that a high percentage of Americans give positive responses to several of these spending questions still leaves a minority of Americans -- translating into millions of people -- who do in fact worry daily about their spending and don't have enough money to buy the things they need. It is likely that there have always been at least some Americans who struggle daily on a financial basis; however, since these Gallup tracking questions are new, there is no track record to calibrate this level of response against previous periods of time prior to the current recession.
Differences by Income Level
There are perhaps not as many differences by income in responses to these questions about spending as might be imagined.
Those with the highest incomes are somewhat, but not dramatically, less likely to say they are cutting back on their spending and are watching their spending very closely. But those with the highest incomes are just slightly less likely to say they worried about spending too much money the day before the survey. There is a more substantial difference by income in response to the question about having enough money "to buy the things you need"; 95% of the highest income group agrees, but even among those making less than $24,000 a year, a slight majority also agree.
Results for each question reviewed in this article are based on telephone interviews with between 2,331 and 2,380 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 8-27, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 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).
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.