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That dread phrase “the new normal” rears its ugly head in a new Gallup survey on consumers’ long-term outlook about their spending. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they’ve been spending less in recent months than they’d been accustomed to doing and that this would become their “new, normal pattern for years ahead.” Another 18 percent said they’ve been spending less recently but that this is “just a temporary change in [their] spending patterns.”
Perhaps the most surprising of the survey’s findings is that a nontrivial proportion of respondents -- 23 percent -- reported spending more money in recent months than they used to. That includes 8 percent who said this higher level of spending would become their new normal.
Gallup notes that there has been little change since an April poll in the number of respondents saying they’ve adopted a new normal in their spending patterns. In the earlier survey, 6 percent said higher spending was their new normal, while 32 percent said lower spending held that status.
From a marketer’s standpoint, a new normal of lower spending wouldn’t matter so much if it were mostly confined to people who aren’t in a position to spend much in any case. But Gallup finds the intent to spend less is common across a range of income groups. Indeed, the spend-less-as-new-normal figure was a shade higher among respondents in the $75,000-plus income bracket (31 percent) than among those in the under-$20,000 cohort (29 percent). The proportion was highest among those in the $20,000-to-29,999 range (37 percent). For those in the $30,000-to-49,999 and $50,000-to-74,999 ranges, it was 32 percent.
The survey (fielded in the first half of this month) also asked people whether they’re saving more money or less money than they’d been accustomed to doing, and whether this is shaping up as a new normal for them. Thirty percent said they’re saving more, including 25 percent who see this as their new normal. Thirty-nine percent said they’re saving less, among whom 13 percent said this would be their new normal. These latter figures are consistent with anecdotal evidence that job losses and other bad effects of the recession are impinging on people’s ability to save, but that they hope to save more when conditions improve.
There was considerable variation among income groups in the incidence of saving more money as a new-normal behavior. And in this case, the variation tracked in a predictable way with different income levels. Saving more is the new normal for 34 percent of the $75,000-plusers, 26 percent of the $50,000-to-74,999s, 25 percent of the $30,000-to-49,999s, 19 percent of the $20,000-to-29,999s and 19 percent of the under-$20,000s. For these latter two groups, “saving less” beat out “saving more” by one percentage point as a new-normal behavior.
Since increased saving is most common among respondents in the poll’s highest income bracket, we can surmise that these people have a choice of whether to continue this virtuous action once the recession has receded. Time will tell whether what they perceive today as a new normal actually turns out to be one.