Press Release

Year-Ahead Household Spending Expectations Decline in December 2019 SCE Household Spending Survey

February 18, 2020

NEW YORK—The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data released the December 2019 Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) Household Spending Survey, which provides information on individuals’ experiences and expectations regarding household spending. The survey shows the highest reading for monthly household spending growth compared to a year ago since April 2015. The share of respondents who reported making at least one large purchase in the last four months also reached a new series high. Year-ahead total household spending growth expectations however, were substantially lower compared to levels seen in the previous year. Median year-ahead expected growth in spending on clothing, food, medical care, housing, and transportation all declined.

Experiences

  • The median increase in monthly household spending compared to a year ago was 2.5%, which is higher than the December 2018 reading (2.3%). This is the highest reading of the series since April 2015. The increase was most pronounced among lower income respondents (below $50,000).
  • Some 62.5% of households in December 2019 reported making at least one large purchase in the last four months, almost two percentage points above its 60.7% share reported in December 2018 and the highest reading since August 2018. The increase was driven by respondents with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000.
  • The proportion of households who made a large purchase in the past four months of electronics, furniture, home appliances, home repairs, vehicles, and vacation all displayed small increases compared to December 2018.
  • The share of households who reported making a house or apartment purchase in the last four months, was 2.0% in December 2019, equal to its reading in December 2018. The series increased to 3.5% in April 2019, but displayed a declining trend for the rest of the year.
  • The reported degree of month-to-month variability in household income declined in December 2019, compared to December 2018. The proportion of households who reported their household incomes (before taxes) vary by less than 5% increased marginally from 82.3% to 82.7%. Those who report their incomes to vary by more than 15% from month to month also declined, from 4.8% to 2.8%.

Expectations                                                                                                       

  • Median expected growth in household spending over the next year declined from 2.8% in December 2018 to 2.3% in December 2019. The decline was driven by respondents with a high school education or less.
  • Median year-ahead expected spending change in clothing, food, medical care, housing, and recreation reported in December 2019 fell behind those reported in December 2018. The median year-ahead expected change in spending on education, on the other hand, remained constant at 0.4%.
  • Differentiating spending on essential and non-essential items, the median year-ahead expected change in household spending on essential items, such as daily living expenses, over the next year remained unchanged at 3.0% from December 2018 to December 2019. The median expected change in spending on non-essential items, such as hobbies, leisure, or vacation, over the next year also remained unchanged at 1.4%.
  • The average likelihood of making a large purchase in the next four months increased for electronics, furniture, house or apartment, vacations, and vehicles compared to a year ago, with the largest increase -- 2.6 percentage points -- for electronics. The average likelihood of making a home repair purchase declined from 21.5% in December 2018 to 19.0% in December 2019.
  • Reported expected spending responses to an unexpected 10% increase in income shows an average 36.5% would be used by households to pay down debt (down from 37.1% in the prior year), 46.4% would be saved or invested (45.7% in December 2018), and 17.1% would be spent or donated (17.3% in prior year). The decline in the average expected share of the extra income used to pay down debts, was driven by respondents without a college degree.

Detailed results are available here.

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.

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

Contact
Desmond Lee
(212) 720-2416
desmond.lee@ny.frb.org