PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans continue to say they enjoy saving money more than spending it, by 60% to 37%. These self-perceptions have remained stable in recent years, but across four measures from 2001 to 2008, the gap between the saving and spending options was smaller, including in 2001, when 48% preferred saving and 45% spending.
These data are from Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance survey conducted April 4-14.
The impact of the 2008 recession is clearly visible in the trend line, with the gap between self-reported enjoyment of saving and enjoyment of spending increasing from the three- to nine-percentage-point range prior to 2009 to as large as 27 points in 2010, and 23 points this year. Clearly Americans' relative enjoyment in spending money, at least as measured with this question, was curtailed when the economy soured in 2008, and so far has not begun to rebound.
Little Relationship to Other Views of the Economy and Finances
Americans' preferences for spending or saving do not appear to be directly tethered to their views toward the nation's economy or their personal finances -- even though the shift toward a focus on saving occurred in the years after the financial crisis of 2008.
Americans who say the U.S. economy is getting better are just as likely to say they enjoy saving as those who say the economy is getting worse. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who enjoy saving is about the same regardless of whether they say economic conditions are positive or negative and whether they rate their own financial situation as positive or negative.
There is also remarkably little variation in these self-reports based on worry about a series of seven different financial problems. Those who are worried about most of these seven problems are only slightly more likely to say they enjoy saving than those who do not worry about any of the seven problems.
Income Is Only Variable Associated With Saving vs. Spending Attitudes
There are relatively few differences in views of saving versus spending across standard demographic segments of the U.S. population, including age, gender, education, and political party.
There are differences by income, with those in the lowest income category (less than $20,000 a year) tilting to the "saving" over "spending" choice by 73% to 25%. The gap narrows to 55% to 43% among those making $75,000 or more per year.
Still the majority of Americans in all demographic groups analyzed prefer saving rather than spending money.
This measure assesses how Americans like to view themselves in relationship to money but not necessarily how Americans actually behave. Most smokers, for example, say they would like to stop, but continue smoking anyhow. Similarly, although the majority of Americans say they enjoy saving more than spending money, this doesn't necessarily mean they don't spend while at the same time feeling guilty about it.
Of course, "saving money" may be a surrogate in some Americans' minds for having a lot of money to save in the first place, which may help explain why this alternative sounds so appealing.
These attitudes may help explain why retailers often run into trouble when they attempt to cut out sales and discounts and create lower everyday, normal prices -- as happened in recent years to retailer J.C. Penney. Even if the ultimate cost for a product is the same, customers apparently like the idea that they are engaging in behavior that is clearly labeled as "saving" money.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 4-14, 2013, with a random sample of 2,017 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 margin of sampling error is ±3 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.