Overall, 55% of consumers said they have started to cut back on living expenses. Not surprisingly, those in lower income brackets are being hit hardest. About 70% of those earning less than $40,000 per year said they have reduced basic expenses to offset higher gas prices, which are now averaging $4.11 per gallon across the country.
"Last year, when gas was at $3 a gallon, people were not really that affected or willing to make change," says Margo Georgiadis, Discover's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "This year change is really, actively happening."
People have been reducing discretionary spending for some time and heading to mass retailers like
to take advantage of lower prices. The Discover survey showed consumers are now altering vacation plans and limiting spending on entertainment as well, if not cutting out these items altogether.
"They're going to ballparks, but not as much to the concession stands," says Georgiadis. "They're going to the movies, but sharing one popcorn. They're pulling back at
Consumers' attitude about the economy fell for the sixth straight month, according to the Discover survey. Its U.S. Spending Monitor index is now at 85.9, nearly 30 points below the level it was at a year ago.
Results backed up similar findings in the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which posted the fifth-lowest reading in its history last month.
The surveys are a reflection of consumers' financial reality -- higher costs, declining home values, debt burdens, a weak job market and bearish stock market -- as well as the inundation of negative news about the country's economic health.