Economy Can't Stop Certain Kinds of Spending

Foodies, fashion addicts, sports fans and technophiles aren't about to sacrifice to the economy.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The best trick sports fans, fashion slaves, tech geeks and foodies ever played on America during the recession was convincing it that they weren't spending.

According to the

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

Spending and Saving Tracker, 68% of Americans say they refused to decrease spending in areas important to them. This being America, where SunChips pulled its entire supply of biodegradable bags because customers' delicate ears were offended by the crunching sound they produced -- the bags, that is, not the chips -- the gravity of various "important" connotations differs drastically.

According to American Express, even in a recession economy people are "still doing what they want to do and are still spending" on food, gadgets, sports and fashion.

For the survey's adamant 68%, "important" encompassed dining (60%), electronics and gadgets (35%), sports (34%) and fashion (25%). Back in July, the Spending and Saving Tracker told us 75% of Americans were holding the line on debt and saving $12,000 this year.

It failed to mention that foodies were putting an average of $2,447 of that a year toward making their life an episode of

Top Chef

; that the fashion conscious were devoting $1,444 to keeping the leg-breakers at

Amazon's

(AMZN) - Get Report

, Zappos and BlueFly at bay; that techies were spending $1,329 in their arms race against the 10-year-old who's totally owning them in

Activision-Blizzard's

(ATVI) - Get Report

Starcraft 2

; and that sports fans were spending $725 a year to have $9 beer spilled on them.

"What we've seen month after month is that people are keeping their budgets relatively steady through tradeoffs," says Mona Hamouly, a spokeswoman for American Express. "Maybe they're doing less, but they're still doing what they want to do and are still spending."

Their stubbornness is starting to have an impact, as the Commerce Department reported 3.9% economic growth last month.

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

,

Aeropostale

(ARO)

,

American Eagle Outfitters

(AEO) - Get Report

,

Macy's

(M) - Get Report

,

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Report

and

Saks

(SKS)

are among the retailers benefiting from September spending, with all reporting same-store sales spikes. Amex rival

MasterCard

(MA) - Get Report

has noticed an upward trend as well, with its MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse finding apparel sales up 3.8% in September over the same period last year and consumer electronics sales soaring 4.3% year-over-year with big gains in the $500-to-$1,000 range.

Much of that can be credited to back-to-school spending, though, and the sectors where these spendthrifts splurge most aren't exactly on easy street.

Of foodies' spending, the greatest percentage (35%) goes to fine dining. According to NPD group, that particular area has experienced nine consecutive quarters of slumping or stagnant sales, peaking at a 0% change in the fourth quarter of 2008, bottoming out with a 16% decline in the fourth quarter of last year and reporting a 3% loss just last quarter.

The tech set, meanwhile, spends 28% of its allotment on computers. While Gartner predicts global computer shipments will increase 19.2 this year from last year, research director Ranjit Atwal noted in August that "PC demand has slowed relative to expectations" in the U.S. and Western Europe thanks to economic uncertainty.

Sports fans' biggest expense is the occasional game ticket (34%). Yet the NFL said last month that ticket sales will be down 1% to 2% this year -- the third straight year of declines -- with average attendance for a regular-season game dropping from 69,774 in 2006 to 67,509 last year. Major League Baseball, meanwhile, revealed its own three-year stretch of falling attendance earlier this week -- announcing a 0.5% dropoff from last year, which itself was a 6.9% step down from 2008. After a record year for average attendance in the National Hockey League, attendance dropped 2% last year. The exception to the rule seems to be the NBA, where the season ticket renewal rate is at 80% compared with last season's 75%.

Finally, 70% of fashion spenders cite shoes as their weakness. They're apparently not weak enough, as SpendingPulse saw footwear sales stop in their tracks at 0.7% growth last month while the rest of the apparel sector soared.

If that seems like a sign of buyer's remorse, dream on. Big-spending sports fans are standing pat, with 49% saying they don't feel the least bit guilty about indulging. Foodies and techies are similarly stoic, with 46% and 44%, respectively, standing by their receipts. Perhaps the most neurotic are the fashionistas, 50% of whom feel extraordinarily guilty about their spending. Though 37% of consumers surveyed anticipate spending less in the next month -- with 55% of that number planning to save -- even guilt won't be enough to sway those obsessed with their favorite stuff.

"I think there's really good news in here for everyone, whether your own a restaurant, are a retailer, a gadget seller, etc." Hamouly says. "People who were passionate about these areas weren't willing to cut their spending and were managing their money in a way that they could still spend on things they cared about."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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