Americans Still Say They Like Saving More Than Spending
Monday, May 8th, 2017
Continuing a trend that took hold during the recession, Americans remain much more likely to describe themselves as the type of person who enjoys saving money rather than spending it. In the years before the recession, Americans were close to evenly split in how they described themselves.
This saving-over-spending gap was largest last year -- with 65% describing themselves as enjoying saving and 33% as enjoying spending. This year, the savings preference edged down to 59% and the spending preference up to 38%, narrowing the gap to 21 percentage points, the smallest since 2012.
Regardless of whether this is the beginning of a trend or a one-year fluctuation, the clear majority of U.S. adults still view themselves as people for whom saving money is more enjoyable than spending money.
In regard to their actual spending habits, Americans by a slight margin say they have been spending less in recent months, rather than spending the same or spending more. Gallup began asking this question in 2009, at the tail end of the Great Recession. At that time, more than half reported spending less. By 2011, fewer reported spending less, while the percentage spending more had edged up.
This year, the 36% who say they are spending less is by one point the lowest in Gallup's trend. The general easing of consumer caution coincides with an increase in Americans' estimated daily spending since 2009, according to Gallup's measure -- although more recently, spending has leveled out.
The 30% of Americans who say they are spending more money in recent months appear loath to accept this as a permanent state of affairs. Two-thirds of this group claim it is only a temporary change in their spending patterns. In sharp contrast, and underscoring the apparent positive connotation associated with being a person who saves, three-quarters of those who say they are spending less money claim it is their "new, normal pattern for years ahead."
|Spending more money||30|
|(Will become new, normal pattern)||(10)|
|(Temporary change in spending patterns)||(20)|
|Spending same amount of money||34|
|Spending less money||36|
|(Will become new, normal pattern)||(27)|
|(Temporary change in spending patterns)||(9)|
|Gallup, April 5-9, 2017|
A separate question included in April 1-26 Gallup Daily tracking interviewing finds 85% of Americans agreeing with the statement, "You are watching your spending very closely." This further supports the idea that Americans view themselves as thrifty individuals.
It is clear from these trends that Americans like to view themselves as people who focus on saving and watching their spending closely. Tellingly, even among the smaller group who admit they are spending more in recent months, a strong majority claim this is temporary -- not their normal behavior.
These findings are based on Americans' self-perceptions, but the assumption is that these idealized views can have behavioral consequences.
One consequence is that Americans may respond strongly to value propositions in retail marketing -- i.e., offers of discounts and sales. Although sometimes illusory, the idea that a marked price is below the "normal retail price" can help consumers satisfy themselves that they are watching their spending and attempting to save as much as possible. Upscale product marketers may be able to ignore these attitudes and appeal to an aspirational desire to be in the luxury class, but that type of marketing is likely not a good fit for most consumers.
A second consequence is the economic effect these attitudes can have. If Americans go too far in favoring saving over spending, it could hurt the nation's vital retail sector. A few years ago, Fortune magazine featured an article titled: "Are Americans saving too much of their money?" It concluded that "The American economy, which is powered by consumer spending, limps along while those with money to spend hoard it instead." The point is that while an attitudinal predisposition to saving could be personally positive, it could be negative for the economy as a whole. Along those lines, there are signs that consumer spending has slowed down recently, contributing to tepid economic growth in the first quarter of this year.
At the same time, other attitudinal measures show that Americans are feeling better about their personal finances these days, and a separate Gallup question shows that significantly fewer Americans say they are actively cutting back on how much money they spend each week compared with a few years ago. Thus, the narrowing edge for the group that favors saving rather than spending could reflect this increased optimism and perhaps augur a further shift in the years ahead. But at least so far, there has not been a wholesale reversal of the basic attitudinal predisposition toward saving in these data.