While the federal government continues to try to pull us out of the recession by spending money it doesn't have, on a personal level Americans have dramatically tightened their spending patterns, especially those Americans that have a lot of money. According to a new Gallup poll, In August we averaged $63 per person, per day, of discretionary spending on items like restaurants, clothing, entertainment and gasoline, compared to $97 in 2008.
That's a drop of $34 per day, or 35%. This is even down slightly from our spending level in August of 2009 ($65), when the overall economic climate was even bleaker.
Those earning $90,000 or more were spending $185 a day as recently as May of 2008. In August of this year, they spent only $109 a day, down 41% from that peak.
The study lumps middle- and lower-income Americans, and found that this group spent $54 a day last month, down from the same month in 2008 by $32, or 37%. Comparing personal spending in the first eight months of 2008 to the same interval in 2010, this group was spending, on average, $88.25 a day, and is now spending $63.38.
Projecting this out to 12 months, the average middle/lower-income American has dropped his annual discretionary spending by $9,078 since 2008. That will pay off a lot of credit cards. It's also a huge amount of money lost by merchants.
Most troubling about this report is not the drop from 2008 to today, but the fact that consumer spending had seemed to finally be trending up earlier this year, but now is fading again.
Has the recovery peaked, or have we learned the lesson of frugality well enough that Americans are reluctant to spend their money, even when they have some in their wallet? One piece of data that suggests the latter is the amount of credit card debt outstanding, which, according to the Federal Reserve Board, is at its lowest point since March of 2007, and has dropped almost every month since August of 2008.
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