Consumers, in Shift, Begin to Splurge

Americans are laying out more on outings and apparel but are still managing to save.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Maybe it's the Vitamin D triumphing over seasonal-affective disorder or the heat inducing them to shed the weight of excess dollar bills, but consumers are spending this summer and feeling good about it.

Americans are socking away more money, spending more spontaneously and being spooking less easily than they were six months ago, according to indicators released today by

American Express

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Consumer Reports

. More than a quarter of both general and affluent consumers see the warm weather as a reason to splurge and, of those groups, 63% expect to spend more on summer outings this year, according to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker.

They also plan to have a few more margaritas and sangria pitchers -- 53% will eat more dinners out -- and 44% will update their summer whites, increasing seasonal apparel and accessory spending. Perhaps the best news is that 91% of consumers haven't regretted the purchases they've made so far this year, with one in five of all consumers saying they made a purchase during that period that they wouldn't have felt comfortable making six months ago.

Consumer spending is already sunnier as a result. The Consumer Reports' Retail Index found per-capita purchasing up 14% to $274 this month from $234 in June. But while their American Express cohorts expected to travel,

Consumer Reports

spenders tended to be more pragmatic: Their purchases were in personal electronics and major appliances, with the latter increasing to 17% this month from 15% in June.

Despite the gains, the Consumer Reports Sentiment Index flattened out at 45.2 in July after creeping up to 45 in June from April's 43.7. Perhaps it's because cautious consumers don't want to get burned this summer. American Express found that 75% of spenders didn't increase their debt in the past six months. Of the 16% of consumers who will increase spending this year, 59% plan to spend more on dining out; the same number plan to spend more on entertainment; 49% plan to spend more on electronics; and 42% plan to spend more on travel.

Consumer Reports'

index of consumer worries dropped to 57.6 this month from 63.5 in June -- with the number of Americans who missed a mortgage payment down to 2.4% from 3.9% -- but 16% of consumers still couldn't afford medical bills or medications, 10% missed a major bill, 8.9% lost or reduced their health-care coverage and 1.3% saw their homes go into foreclosure -- a figure that has increased for three straight months.

Despite these woes, American Express says 49% of consumers plan to spend the same amount over the next six months as they did in the first half of the year, with all consumers looking to save an average of $12,000 this year -- down from $14,000 at the beginning of the year. Of the freewheeling spenders who brought that savings number down over the past six months, roughly 20% said buying on impulse cut into their original plans. That's a lot of boardwalk food and summer blockbusters.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.


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Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.