Almost half of adults surveyed said they don’t plan to increase their discretionary spending this summer despite early predictions that loosening COVID-19 restrictions may stimulate the economy. Young adults are more likely than older Americans to say that they plan to increase their spending and may even take on debt to do so.
With the beginning of spring upon us, warmer temperatures and longer days have many Americans thinking about summer travel and home improvement projects.
After two years of staycations for many families due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people naturally want to get out this summer to enjoy travel and entertainment that has been sorely missed.
A new survey on consumer spending from CreditCards.com has found that this may not be in the cards for yet another summer, however, as rising consumer costs and gas prices put pressure on the average American’s finances.
Almost half (47%) of adults surveyed said they don’t plan to increase their discretionary spending for at least the next six months. Activities that fall into this category include travel, dining, out-of-home and in-home entertainment, clothing, electronics and physical fitness.
Consumer spending poll: Key findings
Notable findings from the survey include:
- Young spenders are less cautious: Unlike their Generation X and boomer counterparts, Generation Z and millennial respondents reported that they are more likely to increase their summer spending despite concerns about the state of the economy. Gen Z is the most confident group regarding increasing their summer spending, with 51% of respondents saying they would spend more in at least one category, followed by 46% of millennials.
- Dining and drinks aren’t a priority: Across all age groups surveyed, recreational spending on restaurants and bars is not likely to increase. A mere 18% of respondents said that they plan to spend more on dining this summer.
- Sports and general entertainment are back: Unlike the drop in spending at restaurants and bars, 57% of high-income respondents and 42% of middle-income households said they plan to spend more on out-of-home entertainment such as concerts, movies and sporting events.
- Willingness to take on debt increasing: 30% of U.S. adults are willing to accrue debt for nonessential purchases this spring and summer. That includes 45% of Gen Zers, 39% of millennials, 24% of Gen Xers and 22% of boomers.
The survey of 2,466 adults was conducted between Feb. 23 to 25, 2022.
Confidence is mixed when it comes to increasing nonessential spending
American adults are split when it comes to increasing their discretionary spending this summer. Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed said they don’t plan to increase their spending, and that number jumps to 65% when considering just Gen X and boomer respondents.
These findings were not surprising to Jeffrey Zhou, co-founder & CEO of Fig Loans. “Most of our money decisions are influenced by our emotions, and the pandemic has been extra challenging for a lot of people. With more people getting vaccinated and restrictions are being lifted, people are excited to go out, travel and do a lot of social activities they’ve been deprived of over the past two years.”
While a progressively opening world may have many itching to travel or see their favorite musician in concert, the looming presence of rising inflation and geopolitical uncertainty has many Americans worried about making any big splurges.
According to Zhou, a cautious approach to increased discretionary spending is wise. “The pandemic should’ve taught us that our jobs and businesses can be gone in a snap, and it’s important to have emergency funds. I think it’s good that nearly 50% of US adults are still being conservative about their spending on nondiscretionary categories.”
Taking on debt comes with risks
It’s no surprise to most that taking on debt to cover nonessential spring and summer expenses can be a risky choice. In mid-March, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates by 0.25% in an effort to curb increasing inflation, and it will likely not be the last hike of the year.
While this may not immediately seem like a large increase, it has direct effects on borrowers as the prime rate increases. For the 30% of Americans who say they are willing to take on debt to fund their spring and summer spending, the added interest to credit card debt and loans could hit many wallets hard.
This finding was troubling to Dr. Stacy Mastrolia, a professor of accounting at Bucknell University. “This is probably the most concerning result of this study, but, unfortunately, it is not a surprise. A 2020 report by Experian on consumer debt from 2019 to 2020 indicated that during this period Gen Z increased their total debt load by 67%, millennials by 12%, Gen X by 4% and boomers by 0%. Between 2019 and 2020, younger generations seem to have become more comfortable with increasing debt, and that result seems to be born out in this study as well.”
If you are planning to increase your spring and summer spending, make sure you can cover the expenses you plan to charge to your credit card. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s a good rule of thumb to treat your credit card as an extension of your debit card. Only charge what you know you can comfortably afford to pay off at the end of your billing cycle.
“I’d recommend that people try to temper their spending. If you’re going to accrue debt to finance discretionary spending, like using your credit card for purchases, make sure that you can afford to pay them after the fun part,” advised Zhou.
Economic uncertainty makes increased discretionary spending risky for many
Despite hopes that this summer would be a time of increased economic growth, the survey shows that many Americans who aren’t willing to take on debt see discretionary spending as risky.
Our economy hasn’t recovered completely from the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009. And part of that is due to a lack of confidence among us in resuming spending. Consumer spending seems to be trending toward a cautious approach to spring and summer for all but the very wealthiest Americans.
“With COVID[-19] cases down sharply, conventional wisdom would have suggested this spring and summer would include a surge in travel, dining and out-of-home entertainment,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
“However, that appears to be in jeopardy with inflation at a 40-year high and gas prices setting all-time records. This may end up being the third straight summer of staycations for many families,” he added.
Summer 2022 was initially expected to be a time that many Americans could let loose after the shadow of COVID-19 kept so many from taking vacations, attending concerts or funding home improvement projects.
Rising interest rates, inflation and an uncertain geopolitical climate, however, have led many to enter the spring and summer season with caution. While this summer will undoubtedly be more open for public events and travel, it’s important to weigh whether these events are worth going into debt for. For many, this may be another summer of saving rather than spending.
CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,466 adults. The survey was conducted Feb. 23 to 25, 2022.