Press Release

New York Fed Introduces the New SCE Household Spending Survey

Survey Shows an Increase in Year-Ahead Household Spending Expectations
February 19, 2019

Today, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data for the first time released its Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) Household Spending Survey, which provides information on individuals' experiences and expectations regarding household spending. The results are being released as a standalone module that is a part of the broader SCE—similar to the existing modules, the SCE Housing Survey, the SCE Credit Access Survey, and the SCE Labor Market Survey. The SCE Household Spending Survey has been fielded every four months since December 2014 and is being introduced now because the module has enough historical data to reveal notable trends. Going forward, the survey data will be released approximately every four months. The New York Fed also issued an accompanying blog post that provides more detailed information about the SCE Household Spending Survey.

The December 2018 SCE Household Spending Survey shows an increase in year-ahead total household spending growth expectations, with households expecting larger spending increases on clothing, education, food, housing and transportation, compared to December 2017 levels. Meanwhile, the expected growth in year-ahead medical care spending declined somewhat. The share of respondents who reported making at least one large purchase in the last four months declined to the lowest level since April 2017.

Experiences

  • The median increase in monthly household spending compared to a year ago was 2.3%, which is equal to both the August 2018 and December 2017 readings. The lack of overall change masks considerable changes in the distribution of spending growth across respondents, with those with higher levels of education (BA or higher) and those under age 60 reporting lower spending growth over the preceding year, while those with lower levels of education (high school degree or less) and those age 60 and above reporting higher spending growth.
  • In December 2018, 60.7% of households reported making at least one large purchase in the last four months. That’s the lowest reading since April 2017, down from 62.3% in December 2017. The decline was driven by respondents without a college degree.
  • In terms of specific items, the proportion of households that made a large purchase of electronics, furniture, home appliances, home repairs and vehicles all displayed small declines compared to December 2017, while the share of households that made a vacation purchase in the last four months increased to 24.0%, from 22.6% in December 2017.
  • The share of households that reported making a house or apartment purchase in the last four months declined to 2.0%, from a series high of 4.4% in December 2017. The decline was largely broad-based across all demographic groups and geographic locations.
  • The reported degree of month-to-month variability in household income was more dispersed in December 2018, compared to December 2017. The proportion of households reporting that their income (before taxes) varies by less than 5% from month to month increased from 80.3% to 82.3%, while the share of those reporting variation of more than 15% from month to month rose from 2.4% to 4.8%.

Expectations

  • Median expected growth in household spending over the next year increased from 2.3% in December 2017 to 2.8% in December 2018. The increase was driven by respondents with a high school education or less.
  • The median year-ahead expected spending change for clothing, education, food, housing, and transportation reported in December 2018 exceeded the median from December 2017. The median year-ahead expected change in spending on medical care, on the other hand, declined by 0.7 percentage points from December 2017, to 3.3%.
  • The average reported likelihood of making a large purchase in the next four months declined for electronics, furniture, house or apartment, vacations, and vehicles compared to a year ago, with the largest declines in furniture (1.1 percentage points) and electronics (2.1 percentage points).
  • Reported expected spending responses to an unexpected 10% increase in income shows that households on average would use 37.0% to pay down debt (up from 35.7% a year earlier), while 45.7% would be saved or invested (versus 46.8% in December 2017) and 17.2% would be spent or donated (versus 17.5%). The increase in the average expected share of the extra income used to pay down debt was driven by respondents with lower levels of education (high school degree or less).

Detailed results are available here.

This survey data will henceforth be released every four months.

About the SCE Household Spending Survey
The SCE Household Spending Survey, fielded as part of the SCE (Survey of Consumer Expectations), 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.

A full set of interactive charts detailing findings from the monthly SCE Household Spending Survey can be found here: https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce/household-spending#/  

More information about the SCE survey goals, design, and content can be found here:
http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce.html

Contact
Brian Manning
(212) 720-6143
brian.manning@ny.frb.org