Americans are spending more this summer, but not on fun stuff

Washington PostJuly 14, 2014 

People are opening their wallets more this summer - but that extra cash isn't going to margaritas and beach excursions.

It's being eaten up by bills and basic things that people need to survive, such as food, electricity and health care, according to a recent Gallup survey. Fifty-nine percent of people reported spending more on groceries this summer than they did last year, compared with only 10 percent who said they are saving on food.

Other sobering figures: 58 percent of people are spending more on gas, 45 percent are paying more for utilities and 42 percent are forking over more for health care, according to the survey. Overall, some 45 percent of people said they are spending more money this summer than they did a year ago, compared with 18 percent who are spending less.

Of course, having to spend more on things they need means people have less cash this summer to spend on the things they want. Close to 40 percent of people reported spending less on travel and about the same share said they cut back on going to restaurants. Also getting the ax: new clothes, electronics and other fun leisure activities.

People are spending more in general on a daily basis now than they did over the past couple of years, according to the Gallup daily spending index, but researchers said that could be because necessities are getting more expensive.

Gas prices are climbing at an unusual pace this summer. Bigger bills at the grocery store could be partly explained by the fact that major food markets, such as the meat industry, are highly consolidated, leaving consumers with very little choice. And it's no surprise that electricity bills go up in the summer as people crank up their air conditioners to stay cool.

But that doesn't mean people are having absolutely no fun this summer. Despite the squeeze, close to 70 percent of people are taking trips - the most since 2006, according to Gallup. They just aren't venturing too far from home: 81 percent of people traveling are driving in their own car and slightly less than half, 47 percent, plan to take at least one trip on an airplane.

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