If money were no object, travel— not shopping or dining out or other hobbies— tops the list of activities consumers rank most valuable to their livelihood and well-being, according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. American Express reports that although travel is an expense that consumers have to manage, this season 31 percent of the population will find a way to fit not one, but two winter getaways into their budget through end of March.
“This year, consumers are focused on finding the right balance between saving and spending by continuing to make smart trade-offs,” said Pamela Codispoti, American Express senior vice president and general manager, cardmember services. “For some people we found that means eating out less but buying quality products at the grocery store so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Regardless of the trade-offs they are making, most people seem to be thinking about how they can be better stewards of their money.”
Travel tops the list of pursuits consumers rank most valuable to their livelihood and well-being with 72 percent, ahead of home entertaining with friends or family (66 percent), and dining out (60 percent). Therefore, even in the midst of their pledges to become fiscally fit, a number of consumers will continue to travel rather than eliminate it from their budget.
“Given how important travel is to consumers, it’s no surprise that they plan to find ways to get away this winter,” says Codispoti. “The combination of travel deals and discounts and the ability to use rewards points to offset the cost of trips is allowing consumers to both reign in spending and continue to travel.”
* Thirty-one percent of the general population plans to take a vacation between now and the end of March and more so among affluents (51 percent) and young professionals (54 percent)
* Two in five (42 percent) young professionals have plans to take weekend trips this winter, and approximately one-fourth (23 percent) of affluents intend to take week-long trips between now and the end of March
* Among all those scheduling a winter vacation, an average of two trips is planned
* More than four in five (84 percent) of the general population will limit their journeys to the United States during the first three months of the year.
The latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, the fifth in a monthly series, reports on consumers’ views about the economy, their financial goals and intentions, and overall spending and saving trends. The research sample of 2,088 adults included the general U.S. population as well as two subgroups – the affluent and young professionals.
The survey also found that, this year, consumers are most focused on their financial well-being and are approaching the year with an optimistic but prudent financial outlook. In fact, nine in 10 (89 percent) of the general population have set a clear financial goal for the year and 83 percent have a specific savings strategy in place, with a goal of saving on average $14,000. This is an ambitious goal, American Express says, given that it accounts for approximately 22 percent of their household income.
Building Financial Nests
When it comes to saving, consumers are setting specific goals and the vast majority (83 percent) have a defined strategy in place to help reach that number. On average, the general population would like to save $14,000 this year and over the next 30 days plans to sock away $1,200. Affluents and young professionals have equally impressive goals for the year, reporting that they plan to save on average $25,000, and $12,000 respectively.
While a wishful 23 percent of consumers hope to win the lottery to hit their savings goal, most consumers have more practical strategies in place.
* More than half (54 percent) of the general population, 59 percent of affluents and 68 percent of young professionals will rely on primary income as a means for achieving their financial goals
There will be some paring back on the small luxuries in life to pad savings accounts – 30 percent of the general population and 42 percent of young professionals will rein in extras such as “morning lattes and manicures”
* Tax returns will play an especially important role in young professionals meeting their savings goal, with 45 percent expecting it to contribute to savings, compared to 25 percent of both the general population and affluents
* Another 19 percent will sell items on websites or in classifieds; 15 percent will take on a second job and six percent plan to stash a portion of a bonus. Of the young professionals, 28 percent plan to leverage their bonus to build their savings.
Whipping Wallets Into Shape
Managing and budgeting finances (51 percent) is at the top of consumers’ lists of financial pursuits for the year ahead. Specifically, consumers will be looking to:
* Significantly reduce or wipe out their debt (21 percent)
* Buy only what they can afford (16 percent)
* Stick to a monthly budget (14 percent)
Others will pursue financial goals of higher paying jobs (12 percent) or to buy or sell real estate (3 percent).
Affluents and young professionals are fairly consistent with the general population in wanting to manage and budget finances in 2010 (44 percent and 52 percent). However, more young professionals (29 percent) say they want to significantly reduce or wipe out their debt but only six percent had a goal of only buying what they could afford.
Even as consumers watch their wallets, 49 percent say they expect to spend more or the same in the next 30 days when compared to the last 30 day period. Consumers plan to spend in:
* Non-discretionary areas, including: groceries (52 percent), child or elder care (50 percent), medical bill/healthcare (49 percent), auto expenses (48 percent), loans and credit card payments (44%), tax payments (44 percent)
* Discretionary areas, including: entertainment (47 percent), dining out (45 percent), and education (43 percent).