NEW YORK—The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today released the December 2021 Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) Household Spending Survey, which provides information on individuals’ experiences and expectations regarding household spending. The survey shows a continued rise in monthly household spending growth, with spending growth moving well above pre-pandemic levels. However, the share of households that report making a large purchase during the past four months is comparable to those reported in December 2020 and December 2019 for most spending categories, except for spending on vacations. The share reporting spending on vacations still lags behind pre-pandemic readings. Year-ahead overall household spending growth expectations continued its steady rise since an initial fall at the onset of the pandemic, reaching its highest reading since the start of the series in August 2015. Median year-ahead expected growth in essential household spending also rose to a new series high. In contrast, households report a lower likelihood of making large purchases over the next four months, which points to the likely contribution of elevated inflation expectations. Expected spending responses to an unexpected 10% increase in income show the average reported share that would be used to pay down debt is well below pre-pandemic levels, with a larger share now being saved.
- The median increase in monthly household spending compared to a year ago rose to 5.1% in December 2021, from 4.7% in August and 1.6% in December 2020. The current reading is the highest since the beginning of this series in December 2014. The increase from December 2020 levels was broad-based across age, education, and income groups.
- Some 58.1% of households in December 2021 reported making at least one large purchase in the last four months, below the 62.6% reading in August but remaining above the December 2020 level of 54.6%.
- The shares reporting making a large purchase on home repairs, furniture, homes, and vehicles all declined in December 2021 returning to within 1 percentage point of December 2020 readings, which in turn were comparable to December 2019 levels. While the share reporting spending on vacations fell to 19.6% in December 2021 from 27.8% in August, remaining substantially higher than the series low of 8.4% recorded in December 2020, but falling below the pre-pandemic December 2019 reading of 25.2%.
- The reported degree of month-to-month variability in household income was relatively unchanged in December 2021 compared to its August 2021 and December 2020 readings.
- Median expected growth in monthly overall household spending over the next year increased to 4.6% in December from 4.2% in August, its highest reading since the start of the series in August 2015. The increase was driven by those with a college degree.
- Median year-ahead expected spending growth on clothing (3.7%), food (5.8%), housing (2.7%), transportation (5.4%), and utilities (4.5%) all reached new series highs in December.*
- Differentiating spending on essential and non-essential items, the median year-ahead expected change in everyday essential spending (daily living expenses) rose to 5.4% in December from 5.2% in August, its highest reading since the beginning of this series in August 2015, and well above its December 2020 (2019) level of 4.1% (3.0%). The median expected change in spending on non-essential items, such as hobbies, leisure, or vacation, over the next year instead declined slightly to 2.5% in December from 2.6% in August, while remaining well above its December 2020 reading of 1.6%.
- While households expect a bigger increase in overall spending dollars over the next 12 months, the average reported likelihood of making a large purchase over the next four months decreased in December for vacations, home repairs, home appliances, furniture, and vehicles, compared to August. Despite the decline from August, the average likelihood of spending on a vacation over the next four months in December (at 22.4%), remains considerably above its depressed December 2020 level of 13.0%, and is comparable to its December 2019 reading of 25.5%.
- Reported expected spending responses to an unexpected 10% increase in income show an average 31.4% would be used by households to pay down debt (down from 36.3% in December 2019), 48.8% would be saved or invested (up from 44.5% in prior year), and 19.7% would be spent or donated (up from 19.2% in prior year).
Detailed results are available here.
About the SCE Household Spending Survey
The SCE Household Spending Survey, fielded as part of the Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE), provides information on consumers' experiences and expectations regarding their spending patterns. Every four months, SCE panelists are asked details about their expectations for year-ahead changes in household spending (both in the aggregate and by category), spending on essential and non-essential items, and the likelihood of making different large purchases. The SCE Household Spending Survey also solicits information on the expected spending and saving response to an unexpected increase or decline in household income. In addition to questions about large purchases and changes in total spending over the past year, respondents are asked about the month-to-month variability in their household income.
More information about the SCE survey goals, design, and content can be found at: http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce.html
* Due to a data recording error in the “expectations about household spending by expense category” series, the data for this series has been revised going back to December 2014.