Consumers Anticipate Jollier Holiday

They plan to spend more this holiday season, reports the annual CUNA/CFA survey.

December 1, 2010

In their 11th annual holiday spending survey, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) found that consumers report some improvement in their financial condition and intention to spend more this holiday season than the 2009 season.

More respondents to this recent survey (Nov. 11-14) said their financial situation is better this year (23%) than last (19%), and far fewer said it was worse this year (30%) than last (36%).

This reported improvement may help explain why more respondents said they would increase their holiday spending this year (10%) than last (8%), and fewer said they would decrease their spending this year (41%) than last (43%).

“While these results convince us that holiday spending will increase this year, elements of our survey also underline the fact many consumers continue to harbor significant concerns about the economy and their personal finances,” says Mike Schenk, vice president of CUNA’s economics and statistics department. “Because of this we expect the increase in holiday spending this season to be modest—roughly half the 5% long-run average increase.”

The CFA/CUNA survey also indicated that consumers are making greater efforts, and having some success, managing their consumer and mortgage debt.

When asked how they would most likely use most of a $5,000 windfall, nearly half (47%) said they would “pay down some debt.”

This percentage is not only six percentage points higher than last year, it’s also higher than percentages for each of the 10 previous years.

Moreover, fewer respondents reported that they’re very concerned about meeting monthly credit card payments this year (10%) than last (12%), and far fewer said they were very concerned about meeting monthly payments on all types of debt this year (17%) than last (23%).

“Our survey provides further evidence, along with less borrowing and more saving, that consumers are trying to rebuild their balance sheets and are having some success doing so,” notes Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s executive director.

The CFA-CUNA survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, which interviewed by phone more than 1,000 representative adult Americans. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Middle-age concerns

Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 reported an unusual degree of concern about their financial condition. According to the survey, middle-age Americans are much more likely than other respondents to:

  • Intend to spend less (51% vs. 41%) or “much less” (28% vs. 19%);
  • Currently experience a worse (36% vs. 30%) or “much worse” financial condition (14% vs. 8%);
  • Be concerned about credit card payments (33% vs. 24%); and
  • Be concerned about all debt payments (52% vs. 43%).

“It’s interesting to note that Federal Reserve data separately reveals that households headed by those in this 45 to 54 age group are the most likely to be carrying debt loads,” says Schenk. “In all, 87% of those in this group carry debt, and they are much more likely than their peers in other age groups to hold both mortgage debt and to have credit card balances.”

Not surprisingly, lower-income families (those earning less than $25,000 annually) have even greater concerns. Thirty percent intend to spend much less than last year, 44% say their financial condition is worse, and 56% say they’re concerned about meeting all debt payments.

And when asked how they would pay for an unexpected $5,000 emergency, far more lower-income families said they would have to borrow money from family or friends (39%), take out a special loan (31%), put it on a credit card (17%), add to a home equity loan (13%) than use money from checking (19%) or savings (33%). Respondents were permitted multiple responses on this question.

View the 2010 Holiday Spending Survey summary here [pdf].