New research from the National Retail Federation shows that Americans aren't just spending again, they're embracing many of the little luxuries they shunned during the worst of the recession -- like trips to the salon and the occasional jaunt to Applebee's.
The survey focused on the shifting definition of what is essential for consumers and what is discretionary as the economy improves.
Currently, 42% consider haircuts and color an "untouchable" expense, and say they wouldn't give it up -- a major jump from 36.9% last year, and even up from 40% in 2008. A daily cup of gourmet coffee, which fell from 17% in 2008 to 14.7% in 2009, is back up to 16.7%. And dinner out at a casual restaurant? Some 32% now say that's non-negotiable, compared with 28.7% in 2009.
Devotion to electronics is greater than ever, with 22.9% describing their cell phones, smartphones, tablets and eReaders as non-negotiable. And some 81.5% say Internet service is sacrosanct, a finding that has remained consistent for the last few years. Men, however, were far more likely to say they cut back on upgraded mobile/ cell phone service, which includes text, video and Internet, with 33.5% saying they had done so versus 29.9% of women. And women were more likely to consider doing without cable TV than men.
Still considered expendable by both sexes: magazine subscriptions, satellite radio and fine dining.
The survey, done by BIGresearch, appears in the NRF's latest issues of its Stores magazine.
A separate survey from the Washington, D.C.-based trade group adds further credence to Americans letting their hair down a bit: When asked how they plan to spend their income tax return, 13.2% say they are going to splurge on a big-ticket item, up from 12.5% last year.
But there's still plenty of restraint, with 42.1% planning to put the money in savings, compared with 40.3% last year. Some 41.9% plan to put it toward debt, while 11.9% will spend it on a vacation, and 29.7% say they will put it toward everyday expenses.
"Many Americans have spent the last few years paying down debt with their tax refunds, but for some, it's the perfect time to buy something nice for a change," says Phil Rist, EVP/BIGresearch, which also conducted this survey, in a release. "Others are also looking to the future, though, by putting their 'free money' in a savings account, with the recession serving as a perfect reminder of the need to be prepared."
Two-thirds (66.2%) of taxpayers surveyed say they are expecting a refund this year, up from 65.5%.