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Signs of Optimism - or at least, Acceptance - in American Spending Trends

Small and big ticket spending indicators up, in conjunction with diminished pessimism toward household financial prospects

NEW YORK, Jan. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- As 2014 approaches the end of its first month, many Americans are still sorting out their financial plans for the near future. With the government actually open for business – an improvement over last October – it should be a foregone conclusion that Americans may be facing the future with a bit more spring in their spending plans than in September of 2013, when the much-discussed federal shutdown was looming. But what about year over year? Are Americans loosening their purse strings or doubling down on pinching pennies?

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,311 adults surveyed online between December 11 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive. Results are compared, where appropriate, to both September 2013 findings (just prior to the aforementioned shutdown) and November of 2012 (just over one year earlier). (Complete findings, including data tables, can be found here)

Big ticket attitudes bounce back
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.

On the other hand, U.S. 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).

Small ticket spending plans also on the rise
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:

  • Going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (34%, down 7 points)
  • Cancelled or cut back cable television (21%, down 6 points)
  • Cut down on dry cleaning (15%, down 5 points)
  • Purchasing more generic brands (58%, down 4 points)
  • Brown bagging lunch instead of purchasing it (42%, down 4 points)
  • Switched to refillable water bottle instead of purchasing bottles of water (33%, down 4 points)
  • Cancelled one or more magazine subscriptions (24%, down 4 points)

Is "not getting worse" good enough?
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. Over 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%).

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.

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.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 11 and 17, 2013 among 2,311 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #7, January 22, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for The Harris Poll®, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research across a wide range of industries. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing a client's research investment. Serving clients worldwide through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help our clients stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit

Press Contact:
Corporate Communications
Harris Interactive
[email protected]

SOURCE Harris Interactive

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