Small and Big Ticket Indicators Point to Economic Doubts

Parents may be using small ticket savings to fund big ticket needs

Oct 08, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, Oct. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Much has been written and said in recent days about government budgeting and spending, with eyes constantly on the national economy. But what of household spending? Decisions on spending and saving made at the personal level, both large and small, can provide a strong barometric read as to not only individual or household income and expectations, but of Americans' attitudes and expectations toward the national economy.


Currently, majorities of Americans continue (as seen in June) to say that they are likely to decrease spending on eating out at restaurants (62%, even with June) and reduce spending on entertainment (61%, up from 59%) in the next six months. Additionally, majorities of Americans are pessimistic as to the likelihood that they will save or invest more money in the next six months (with 53% saying this is not likely) or have more money to spend the way they want (72%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,577 adults surveyed online between September 18 and 24, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full results, including data tables, can be found here)

Some telling drops (vs. June) in "big ticket" spending plans for the next six months include:

  • Save or invest more money (with likely ratings dropping from 50% to 47% – the lowest level since this series began in November of 2008)
  • Have more money to spend the way you want (28%, down from 31%)
  • Take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week (dropping from 35% to 27% - the lowest level on record)

Men appear to be more optimistic than women about their financial prospects for the next six months:

  • Women are more likely than men to say that they will reduce spending on entertainment in the next six months (64% and 57%, respectively)
  • Men, meanwhile, show stronger levels of confidence that the next six months will find them…
    • Saving or investing more money (51% men, 44% women)
    • Having more money to spend the way they want (32% men, 24% women)
    • Buying or leasing a newly manufactured car, truck or van (17% men, 11% women)
    • Buying a boat or recreational vehicle (6% men, 3% women)

Small changes for "small ticket" savings
The majority of Americans say they have begun purchasing more generic brands over the past six months in order to save money (62%, identical to June findings), with an additional 15% saying they have considered doing so. Additionally, nearly half indicate having "brown bagged" their lunches instead of purchasing them (46%) and roughly four in ten indicate going to the hairdresser, barber or stylist less often (41%) and switching to a refillable water bottle instead of purchasing bottles of water (37%)

Some behaviors have seen modest growth since June; these include:

  • Brown bagging lunch instead of purchasing it (up from 44% to 46% – the highest level recorded since June 2011, when it was also 46%)
  • Going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (up from 39% to 41% – again the highest since June 2011, when it was at 43%)
  • Cancelled or cut back cable services (up from 24% to 27% and currently at its highest level on record)

Other cost-saving behaviors have dropped since June, though in many cases these drops amount to a single percentage points. More noteworthy, though still modest, drops include:

  • Stopped purchasing coffee in the morning (20%, down from 22% in June)
  • Cut down on dry cleaning (also down from 22% in June to 20% currently)
  • Cancelled a newspaper subscription (15%, down from 18% in June)

Women are more likely to have made several "small ticket" spending cuts within the past six months:

  • Purchasing more generic brands (67% women, 56% men)
  • Brown bagging lunch instead of purchasing it (49% women, 42% men)
  • Going to the hairdresser/barber/stylist less often (46% women, 35% men)
  • Switched to a refillable water bottle instead of purchasing bottles of water (40% women, 33% men)
  • Cancelled or cut back cable television services (31% women, 23% men)

For their part, men (17%) are more likely than women (12%) to have begun carpooling or using mass transit.

The parental paradox
Americans with children under 18 are significantly more likely than those without to have done nearly every one of the tested small ticket savings activities, yet also show a stronger likelihood than those without kids under 18 to make several of the tested "big ticket" purchases in the next six months:

  • Buy a new computer (36% among those with children under 18, 22% among those without)
  • Buy or lease a newly manufactured car, truck or van (24% and 11%, respectively)
  • Purchase a house or condo (12% and 5%, respectively)
  • Buy a boat or recreational vehicle (10% and 2%, respectively)

While a direct, causal link between the saving and spending activities can't be confirmed, it stands to reason that the former cutbacks may be intended to help subsidize the latter expenditures.

To see the full results (including data tables), or to read 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 September 18 and 24, 2013 among 2,577 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® #71, October 8, 2013
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
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SOURCE Harris Interactive