Household Spending: Still Restrained Despite Pickup



Household spending perked up at grocery, big-box, and apparel stores in November. But the overall pace of retail spending remains modest and skewed toward certain places—especially online.

The holiday-related uptick is evident in month-to-month growth (i.e., October to November). However, growth is much more modest in most retail channels when measured year-to-year and year-to-date. See the table summary.

The takeaway is that households are keeping their spending under control and focused in certain places. The spending focus remains in places mostly outside of traditional retail stores—especially at restaurants and auto dealers (although autos slipped again month-to-month).

  • The broadest retail measure rose modestly (+0.2%) on a month-to-month basis and remained relatively weak on a year-to-year (+1.5%) and year-to-date basis (+2.1%), according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • The numbers look better when gasoline is excluded. Excluding gasoline, autos and food service, sales picked up month-to-month (0.5%), but November sales are up just 2.7% from the prior year and are up a modest 3.2% year-to-date.

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