CHICAGO: American consumers are spending more than before, but the legacy of the economic downturn has conditioned most of them into thinking they are spending less, according to new research.

The audit of consumer attitudes and behaviour from market researchers Mintel has revealed that Americans believe they are spending more year-on-year only on in-home food (+14%) and household care (+2%).

According to the results, consumers also believe they have cut back the most on out-of-home alcohol (-47%) followed by leisure and entertainment (-37%), holidays (-36%), dining out (-33%) and home and garden (-32%).

But Mintel discovered that consumers are actually spending more across all 13 evaluated categories. Sectors that saw the largest year-on-year spending increases were transport (+7%), dining out (+6%), in-home alcohol (+6%), out-of-home alcohol (+6%) and home and garden (+5%).

Even though the US economy officially exited recession nearly four years ago, Mintel suggested that lingering concerns about the health of the economy and fear of debt are affecting consumers' attitudes and perceptions about their spending decisions.

Fiona O'Donnell, lifestyles and leisure analyst at Mintel, said that in many categories consumers have been conditioned by a cycle of sales, coupon offers and other discounts to avoid paying the full price. In addition, technology has made price comparisons easier.

For these reasons, she advised that "marketers should not expect a swing back to pre-recession impulse buying habits and spending on credit".

34% of consumers said they use any spare cash to pay off debt while only 22% put it into savings. Mintel also found evidence that consumers believe they're being more frugal with 68% saying they pay more attention to product prices since the recession and 54% saying they only buy items if there is a need to do so.

Susan Menke, category manager at Mintel, said: "The most important factors impacting consumer spending [and] lifestyles are stagnant real wages, housing prices, rising educational and healthcare costs, and the lack of savings."

Data sourced from Retail Times, Marketing Daily; additional content by Warc staff