NEW YORK (AP) — As they watched stocks rally last month, Matt Rizzetta and his fiancee Daniela Papandrea loosened up their wedding and home renovation budgets.
They're springing for fancier flowers and seafood as well as chicken. They'll spend two extra days on their honeymoon in Greece. And they're getting granite countertops installed in their kitchen in their new house.
Shoppers tired of fretting about every expense are starting to treat themselves again — albeit just a bit — amid tentative signs that the economy may be stabilizing. These splurges — dining on steak instead of hamburger or buying a coveted handbag — are providing a little relief to businesses that are still suffering as spending remains weak.
"We always were crunching numbers and worrying about every little penny," said Rizzetta, a 26-year-old marketing executive in New York. "It has been somewhat of a relief to spend a little more."
To be sure, these signs of life do not signal a swift turnaround. Job losses keep rising and confidence in the economy remains near historic lows. Some economists even warn of a double-dip recession, with another contraction coming later this year after a brief respite.
Plenty of laid-off workers are still cutting their spending as much as they can. And many experts say people will stick with their new frugal habits even when the economy recovers. Rizzetta says that while they decided to spend more in some areas, he's still cutting back on going out to eat and has decided not to buy a new car.
So even if consumers are feeling flush just for the moment with their tax refunds, stores are hopeful. The Conference Board's consumer confidence figures in April had the biggest jump since November 2005. Warmer weather and a stock market rally have all helped make consumers feel better about spending.
"I have this feeling that people were tired of holding back," said Thierry Beaud, owner of Pistache, a French bistro in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Beaud has seen a rebound in sales of $100 bottles of rare wines since the end of March. His patrons — primarily money managers and stockbrokers — are also switching back to $45 beef tenderloin entrees after switching to roasted chicken and hamburgers since the financial meltdown last September.
Revenues are up just slightly, he said. Still, he added, "I am not planning for an immediate recovery. We are still very cautious about how we are handling our business."