A whopping 82% of Americans do not plan to shell out more money this year although gas prices have continued to decline, according to a new Bankrate.com report. Only 16% of consumers plan to spend more this year on the holidays, including 5% who will spend more because of lower gas prices and 11% who plan to spend more, but not specifically because of gas prices.
Despite their age, income and education levels, most Americans agree on one thing: they are not allocating more money toward shopping this year. Millennials are the only age group who had the lowest propensity to hold back on their spending this year with 71% of them who said they would not spend more this year, compared to 84% to 86% among their older counterparts.
“There is still a prevailing sense of unease when it comes to discretionary spending and the lack of emergency savings,” said Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate.com chief financial analyst. “But with some Millennials, even loads of student debt and little savings won’t hold them back from splurging during the holiday shopping season.”
Millennials plan to indulge a little more this year with 28% who said they would spend more this holiday season, including 8% who attribute the higher spending to the drop in gas prices and 20% being inclined to spend more regardless of the gas price situation.
Sales this year are expected to rise by 4% to 4.5% from the 2013 holiday season, said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. Online holiday sales should be up by 12% to 14% from a year ago, compared to a 10% gain in online holiday sales in 2013, bringing the total to near $52.5 billion.
Shoppers will reap the benefits of retailers slashing their prices this year since “price cuts and promotions will be the rule and not the exception,” he said.
The Bankrate Financial Security Index came in at 102.0, the highest level since March and the third highest reading of 2014. Any reading above 100 indicates improved financial security compared to one year ago.
Readings on net worth and overall financial situation posted notable improvement, while feelings of job security and comfort level with debt continue to show strength. Savings remains the laggard among financial security metrics, with the level of discomfort unchanged from one month ago and little changed throughout 2014.
Consumers are hesitant to shop more and are holding back because their wages have remained stagnant, McBride said.
“The majority of people are still very hesitant,” he said. “There is a prevailing sense of caution among consumers, because they not seen any pay increases. People don’t have a lot of whole additional spending power.”
Most consumers are also cognizant of the fact that cheaper gasoline prices may not last long and is likely a temporary decline unlike receiving a raise or bonus from work, McBride said.
“The savings they are getting at the pump is not guaranteed to last for any particular length of time and that money gets spent some place else,” he said. “Until people see more money in the paycheck, they will be unwilling and unable to ramp up their spending in a meaningful way. The American consumer has an inclination toward bargain hunting and frugality.”
While gasoline prices have dipped, food prices have been rising steadily. Since food prices have risen by 3%, with meat, poultry, fish and eggs increasing by 8% and dairy prices are up over 5%, the typical household's budget share of food is about 2.5 times as much as its share on gasoline, said Peter Zaleski, a professor of economics at the Villanova School of Business in Pennsylvania.
Most consumers are not saving that much money from the decline in gas prices. The average driver purchases 600 gallons of gasoline per year based on data from AAA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, he said. In 2013, the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $3.26 per gallon compared to today’s average price of $2.67 today.
“As dramatic as the price decline seems, it translates into $354 per year,” Zaleski said. “For the two month Christmas shopping season, that is about an extra $60 in the average driver's pocket assuming the same amount of driving. While all drivers should feel happy about falling gasoline prices, that price decline is not occurring in a vacuum.”
Compared to the higher gas prices in the spring and summer, the average household is now saving $100 each month, said Michael Green, manager of public relations for AAA.
Each one cent per gallon reduction in the national average price of gasoline reduces consumers' spending at the gas station by about $1.1 billion which can be both saved and spent on other items, said Hoffman.
“This puts close to $60 billion of extra bucks into holiday shoppers ‘pockets’ this year compared to 2013,” he said.
The longer holiday shopping season and the numerous discounts being offered starting in November affect how consumers shop, said Giacomo Santangelo, a lecturer of economics at Fordham University in New York.
“Seeing how people get such incredible discounts shopping Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Green Monday, it really isn't any wonder that consumers are spending less,” he said. “Of course people aren't spending as much money during the holiday season since they did their shopping in September and October.”
Millennials might be shopping more than their counterparts, because they do their homework about products and comparison shop on their devices, said Mark Venezia, senior vice president of sales for North America for Spreadshirt, a Boston-based e-commerce platform company.
“When they see a good deal, they click buy and finalize the transaction,” he said. “Millennials are optimistic about the economy, are very socially connected and technology has made it very easy for this tech savvy age group to shop anywhere, anytime and ship things everywhere.”
Sales could be down currently, because many consumers may not be impressed with the merchandise being offered in stores, said Steve Riordan, a partner at Kalypso, a Beachwood, Ohio consulting firm. Shoppers found the current merchandise offerings less innovative, according to a survey conducted by Kalypso with Indiana University's Kelly School of Business and CollegeFashionista.com.
“It’s not necessarily about how much consumers have to spend – it’s about how innovative and exciting products are,” he said.
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet