Consumer confidence was flat in April, as more people saw their personal finances improving, while the effect of higher gas prices may have contributed to declining attitudes about the overall economy, according to the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor, a poll that tracks economic confidence and spending intentions for nearly 8,200 consumers.
The monitor climbed 0.2 points to 96.7, and remains at its highest level since October 2007.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents in April rated their personal finances as good or excellent, a 3-point jump from March. At the same time, high gas prices appear to be taking their toll on spending. More than half of respondents said that high gas prices are forcing them to change summer vacation plans, while 61% said that the high gas prices may cause them to cut back on discretionary spending.
The result of higher gas prices is felt most acutely among younger respondents and people of households earning less than $40,000 annually. Of those in households earning less than $40,000 annually, 74% said they have had to change spending plans because of high gas prices, with 65% of that group saying they have also had to change vacation plans.
More consumers reported in April that they are spending about the same as the month earlier and that they plan to spend about the same next month. In April, 42% reported spending about the same as the month earlier, compared to March's figure of 41%. At the same time, 50% are planning to spend the same in May, a rise of 2 percentage points from the month earlier.
Only 44% reported that they would spend more next month on household expenses, which is a drop of 8 percentage points from March. Of respondents, 46% said they would spend the same next month on household expenses, which is a jump of 7 percentage points from the month earlier.
Overall, 45% of respondents said they would spend less next month on major personal purchases, such as vacations, a 1-point increase from March and inconsistent with past Monitor surveys during this time of year.
At the same time, spending plans for home improvements inched up slightly: 18% said they planned to spend more next month on household improvements, which is the highest figure since June 2011 and consistent with spending intentions on home improvement in the warmer months.
Despite increasing concerns about the U.S. economy and rising gas prices, more consumers reported positive attitudes about their personal finances in April.
Overall, 27% said their personal finances are getting better, an increase of 2 percentage points over March. Feelings that personal finances are getting worse remained flat.
There was a big dose of optimism from consumers in households with income of more than $75,000 annually. Forty-three percent said their personal finances are improving, a 7-point increase from March and the highest figure since January 2008.
Sixteen percent of respondents now rate the U.S. economy as good or excellent, compared to 13% who had that attitude in March. In addition, the number of people who report the U.S. economy as poor stayed at 50%.
Discover's Spending Monitor is based on interviews with a random sample of 8,200 U.S. adults conducted at a rate of 275 per night. In addition to spending, the survey asks consumers their opinions on the economy and their personal finances.