When lockdowns and school closures started in March 2020, it had an unintended consequence – a huge improvement in most households’ ”balance sheet”. Between mortgage deferrals, CERB, business loans and retail closures, people had more money and nothing to spend it on. Major expenses like international travel and vehicle purchases were either unavailable or unnecessary. While prior to the pandemic savings rates were dipping negative, the national savings rate for the early part of the pandemic was almost 25%, a level not seen since 1982.
It’s all coming back to normal though... the savings rate is below 2% in the most recent data, and credit card + auto loan debt is now above pre-pandemic levels. Now to be fair, this is total dollars. Between inflation and a growing population, you could argue we are still below the levels of early 2020. But the trend is pretty clear: most spending, less saving.
So where is all that money going? I suppose it’s all diamond rings, luxury homes and Italian sports cars? Far from it... jewelery, car dealers and furniture are in the bottom five categories of spending growth. Instead it’s the day-to-day: shoes, food, and clothes. Spending is rising, but it seems to be driven more by inflation and necessities than luxury consumption.
Consumer debt has exceeded pre-pandemic levels in some categories, while savings rates have declined over the past two years. Consumer spending has grown most over the past year in ”everyday” categories such as food and apparel, as opposed to ”big ticket” items like cars, jewelry and furniture.
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