Gallup's self-reported consumer spending measure showed encouraging signs in January, with consumers reporting daily spending averages similar to December's four-year high.
The $80 daily spending average in January only fell a tick from the $83 in December, and remains well above the $63 of January 2012. The figure also exceeds every January since 2009.
It is unclear whether consumers are acting on their increasing confidence in the economy, or whether it is a reflection of higher prices for goods Americans need to buy. But if spending figures hold in the higher ranges in the months ahead, it will be a strong sign for the economy.
The $80 average is the best monthly spending average found in any month other than November or December since the $91 average of October 2008. Monthly averages since the end of the recession generally have ranged from $60 to $77.
The higher numbers could mean that consumers are emerging from the slowdown spending habits developed during the recession. Spending trended higher in 2012, with monthly averages of at least $70 since March. Monthly spending averages before then were $70 or higher only seven times in 38 months since January 2009.
The January 2013 spending estimate coincides with Gallup's decision to include more cellphone-only respondents in the U.S. It is unclear whether that change could have affected the January spending estimate.
Consumers earning less than $90,000 per year reported spending $70 on average, compared with $67 in December. Their higher-income counterparts reported spending $138 on average, compared with $155 in December. Both January averages are significantly higher than comparable previous January averages since 2008.