WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nearly three in 10 Americans (29%) say they have been spending more in recent months than they used to, up from 17% who said the same in February 2010, the last time Gallup asked the question. At the same time, fewer Americans, 44%, say they have been spending less than they used to.
These data are from Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance survey, conducted April 9-12, 2012. The majority of Americans (56%) now say they are spending either more than usual or the same amount. By contrast, in 2009 and 2010, at least half said they were spending less.
The uptick in the percentage of Americans who say they are spending more is in line with the higher consumer spending Gallup finds in its Daily tracking today compared with the same month in 2009 through 2011. Americans' self-reported daily spending in stores, restaurants, gas stations, and online averaged $73 per day in April, on par with the $74 in March -- both of which are up significantly from earlier in 2012. The increase in Americans' self-reports of their daily spending came as gas prices rose to a four-month high of nearly $4 per gallon in early April.
Of the 29% of Americans who say they are spending more money these days, 12% say this is a new, normal pattern for them, while 17% say it is temporary. Although fewer Americans in 2009 and 2010 said they were spending more, the proportions reporting that as either a new normal or temporary were similar to today's, with more calling it temporary than a new normal.
In contrast, most Americans who say they are spending less than usual describe it as a new, normal pattern for them than as a temporary change. This is consistent with what Americans said in 2009 and 2010.
The Lower-Income Are More Likely Than the Higher-Income to Be Cutting Back
About half of Americans with annual incomes of less than $30,000 or between $30,000 and $74,999 say they are spending less than usual. This compares with 34% of those who make $75,000 or more.
Higher-income Americans are more likely than the lower-income groups to say they have been spending the same amount, and are no more likely to say they have been spending more.
Americans Still More Likely to See Themselves as Savers
Separately from their views of their actual spending behavior, the majority of Americans still say they enjoy saving money more than spending it. The percentage of Americans who say they enjoy saving more than spending increased in 2009 and has remained elevated since.
There are almost no significant differences in Americans' spending versus saving preferences by demographic and socioeconomic group. Men, women, adults of all ages, those living in all regions of the country, and those of all ideological persuasions are more likely to enjoy saving money rather than spending it. High-income Americans are slightly more likely than those with lower incomes to say they enjoy spending more than saving, but the difference is not great.
Americans appear to be loosening their spending habits slightly compared with 2009 and 2010. However, with more saying their new increased spending is temporary rather than a permanent behavior, it isn't clear if they are spending more because of improved economic conditions or because of the rising cost of consumer goods such as gas and food. Additionally, Americans are still much more likely to say they have been spending less in recent months than spending more. And, they remain more likely to say they enjoy saving rather than spending -- showing they are still nervous about spending too much.
What Americans tell Gallup about their spending and saving habits matches what they are actually doing. The savings rate in the United States has more than doubled since the 2008-2009 economic downturn ended. Whether Americans choose to increase their spending even more or rein it back in will likely depend on the future of the jobs situation and overall economic conditions in the United States.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Apr. 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.