Consumers Still Cautious, Long After Great Recession

More people say they prefer saving to spending

May 11, 2017

The psychological effects of the Great Recession continue to be felt years after the fact, with consumers still showing signs of trauma from the downturn.

The latest evidence can be seen in poll data from Gallup showing a widespread, continued attitudinal change in the way US consumers think about spending vs. saving.

Consumers who are under some level of financial stress are more likely now to say that they get more pleasure from saving than from spending. 

More than 60% of financially worried consumers said they enjoy saving more than spending. The group included subgroups: those who said they were worried about paying bills; those who worried about maintaining their standard of living; and those who said they don't have enough money to live comfortably, 

In 2005-2006, these stressed consumers were generally more likely to say they preferred spending over saving. That changed in the wake of the recession, and in most cases the preference for saving has even intensified slightly recently, even though the recession is now years in the past and a variety of economic measures have recovered to pre-recession levels.

The release of the Gallup survey data came on the heels of a report from market research firm IRI showing that unit sales of CPG items declined in the first quarter, a possible sign of consumer belt-tightening. 

In particular, the IRI data showed signs of economic stress among millennials, 55% of who said were sacrificing to make ends meet.

Interestingly, the Gallup data found that consumers who did not consider themselves financially stressed preferred saving to spending -- both before and after the recession. But among this financially secure group, the preference for saving has increased since then, just as it has among those who worry about finances.