So, are Americans loosening their purse strings or doubling down on pinching pennies?
ccording to the results of The Harris Poll of 2,311 adults surveyed online between December 11 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive Americans are less likely than in September to say that they plan on decreasing their spending on eating out at restaurants (55%, down 7 points) and reducing spending on entertainment (52%, down 9 points) within the next six months.
But on the other hand, US adults are more likely to say they will save or invest more money within the next six months (58%), when compared to both last September (up 11 points) and the previous November (up 8 points).
Americans are also more likely to say that they will take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week (38%, up 11 points from Sept. 2013 and 9 points from Nov. 2012) and that they will have more money to spend the way they want (38%, up 10 and 8 points, respectively).
Rural Americans seem less optimistic than their urban and suburban counterparts: they are less likely to say they anticipate saving or investing more money (50% rural vs. 60% urban and 60% suburban), taking a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week (30% vs. 39% and 41%, respectively), and having more money to spend the way they want (28% vs. 41% and 40%, respectively).
There are signs of growth in small ticket expenditures as well, with modest year over year drops in going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (34%, down 4 points from Nov. 2012), cancelling one or more magazine subscriptions (24%, down 3 points) and cutting down on dry cleaning (15%, down 3 points) over the past six months.
More prevalent are changes vs. last September, with results again indicating Americans are making fewer spending sacrifices in these areas related to household and personal care:
• Going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (34%, down 7 points)
• Cut down on dry cleaning (15%, down 5 points)
• Purchasing more generic brands (58%, down 4 points)
It's tempting to look at these small and big ticket indicators as signs that American attitudes toward the economy are improving – and this is true, up to a point, noted Harris. More than two in ten Americans (22%) expect their household's financial condition to improve in the next six months; this is comparable to a year prior (23%), according to the survey data.
However, more notable is a trend away from the expectation that Americans' household financial conditions will get worse, which at 27% is down 5 points from a year ago. Expectation that it will remain the same, at 51%, is up 7 points, according to Harris.
These attitudinal shifts, coupled with recent and planned spending trends, may be indicating that Americans feel they have cut back enough, and that if things aren't going to get better for them any time soon, then they'll at least settle for things not getting any worse, noted Harris.