In March, Americans' daily self-reports of spending averaged $86. It was about the same as the March 2014 average of $87, but below the averages for many months in 2014. Last month's figure, however, was up slightly from February's $82.
After dropping in January as usual after the holiday season, consumer spending remained at that lower level in February. The $4 increase in March is consistent with the slight increases seen in March of every year since 2010 with the exception of last year, when spending rose in February but was flat in March. Average daily spending dropped between February and March 2008 (by $25); however, that most likely was a sign of the looming recession.
Average self-reports of spending in March increased by $7 among upper-income Americans -- those with annual household incomes of $90,000 a year or more -- to reach $144. Among middle and lower-income Americans -- those with incomes that are less than $90,000 -- spending increased by $4 from February to reach $75 in March. Last month's spending among middle and lower-income Americans -- who make up the bulk of U.S. consumers -- was the same as in March 2014, while spending among upper-income Americans was down slightly compared with the previous year.
Self-reported consumer spending is a new behavioral economics measure based on the individual reports of a random sample of Americans. The focus is on consumer discretionary spending, including on basics such as gas purchases at the pump and more optional impulse purchases online or in stores. Excluded are routine spending, including the consumer's monthly bills, and big purchase items such as automobiles and housing.
By tracking consumers' reports of how much they spend on a daily basis, investors can monitor not only overall discretionary spending trends, but also the impact on Americans' spending patterns of everything from the day of the week to special events.
Gallup's self-reported Consumer Spending measure is a real-time indicator of Americans' discretionary spending. The behavioral characteristics of this new measure provide early and unique insights into how consumer spending is responding to various changes in the business environment.
Further, the spending measure provides estimates on a continuing basis, giving an early read on what the government eventually reports for retail sales roughly two weeks after the close of each month. Overall, Gallup's behavioral-based spending measure allows business and investment decisions to be based on essentially real-time consumer spending information.
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