This article is part of an ongoing series exploring in-depth trends in Americans' consumer spending habits.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the face of increasing demands on their pocketbooks for spending on household essentials this summer, Americans have various ways of dealing with the continuing budget crunch.
More than half of American consumers Gallup polled say in the past four weeks they purchased generic or store brand goods (83%), shopped at more than one store for similar items to get the best deal (61%), gone online to compare prices and find the best deal (59%), used coupons when shopping (58%), and followed a strict budget (55%). But, perhaps surprisingly, a majority also say they purchased more at the store than they originally intended to (58%).
American consumers have not embraced all cost-saving measures, however. Four out of 10 respondents say they have purchased used goods to save money (40%). Equally interesting is what consumers are not doing: About a third of consumers report making an impulse purchase (38%), going shopping for fun (31%), or making a major purchase that cost at least one week's pay (27%). These results are consistent with the sentiments expressed in the Gallup Daily tracking poll.
Consumers' spending decisions this summer underscore the tension between doing what is right for the larger economy (more spending) and doing what is right for their own personal or household economy (spending responsibly and reducing expenses). Overall, Americans' spending habits are bad news for the larger U.S. economy. This is the first time Gallup has measured household saving in this way, so it is unclear whether the current patterns are typical, or if the results about saving strategies are better now than during the recession.
Americans' Attitudes Show Inclination Toward Saving Money
Americans' seem to be leaning toward saving their money instead of spending it. More than half of Americans (53%) "strongly agree" (giving a rating of 5) that they are careful about how they spend their money, with another 22% agreeing less strongly (giving a rating of 4). Forty-five percent strongly agree they always save some of their money when they get some and about one-third say they only shop for exactly what they need. In contrast, 28% rank convenience over saving money (strongly agree + a rating of 4), and 16% say they spend the money they get right away (strongly agree + a rating of 4).
Americans' careful spending habits characterize an economy still struggling to get on its feet and households continuing to find ways to pinch pennies to make ends meet. The poll results underscore the tension between doing what is right for the larger economy -- spending more -- and doing what is right for one's personal economy -- spending responsibly and reducing expenses. Using coupons, price shopping, buying store brands or generics, and sticking to a budget are some of the ways Americans are trying to do more with less. A majority of consumers are using coupons when they shop, suggesting that coupon use, as well as other ways of obtaining price discounts, is firmly entrenched in the American consumer's mindset.
Discounting has become so ubiquitous that it is possible that consumers will avoid retailers who do not discount. While Americans are spending more on household essentials, they have less available to spend on discretionary items, such as leisure activities, travel, dining out, and consumer electronics. Even more to the point, American consumers are foregoing major purchases and rarely shopping for fun. It is likely that a more robust economy will see the return of the joy of shopping, but, paradoxically, the joy of shopping for fun, making major purchases, and spending on discretionary items is what fuels economic growth.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 9-15, 2014, with a random sample of 1,029 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. 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.