U.S. Self-Reported Spending in August Best in 5 Years

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Americans’ reported daily spending averages $95 in August

by Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, NJ — Americans’ self-reported daily spending averaged $95 in August, up from $89 in July. The latest spending estimate is the highest Gallup has measured in any month since a $99 reading in September 2008.

Trend in Self-Reported U.S. Average Daily Spending, Monthly Averages

Gallup asks Americans on its Daily tracking survey to report how much they spent the prior day, excluding household bills and major purchases like a car or home. The data give an estimate of discretionary spending.

Gallup’s spending measure has generally been trending upward since late 2012. From 2009 until November 2012, the monthly averages were consistently below $80. That “new normal” period in spending, tied to the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate, represented a dramatic change from 2008, the first year Gallup asked the question. In 2008, each monthly estimate exceeded $80, including four months with averages above $100.

Spending this August was more robust in the first part of the month than in the later part. From Aug. 1-13, Gallup’s spending estimate averaged $103, but from Aug. 14-31 the average was $89. The late August figures were still relatively healthy because they exceed the spending average of $88 for 2013 to date.

August’s stronger numbers come after a three-month period in which Gallup’s spending measure was generally flat.

August Spending Strong Among Upper-Income, Parents

Groups that typically report higher spending levels — upper-income Americans, parents, those aged 30 to 49, and men — also reported higher levels in August than in July. But most key subgroups showed at least marginally higher spending in August, including middle- and lower-income Americans and those with no children under 18.

Comparison of July and August Daily Spending Averages, by Subgroup

August is a prime season for retailers due to back-to-school shopping, but both parents and non-parents reported higher August spending, suggesting the spending boost was a result of other factors. These could include travel and other summer recreational spending, which could be higher this year, given Americans’greater confidence in the economy now than in prior years.

Implications

Consumer spending has been making a comeback this year, according to Gallup’s daily spending estimates, highlighted by August’s numbers, which are the strongest in five years. Improved spending is the surest way for the economy to return to health, given how reliant the U.S. economy is on consumer activity.

The August increase in Gallup’s spending measure is a positive sign for the economy after Gallup and government spending estimates suggested little spending growth in July. A key to keeping up the positive momentum is whether Americans pull back in September or continue to spend at higher levels.

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