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Travel and Restaurant Spending Rose as COVID-19 Vaccines Rollout Began

Restaurants and electronics made up a third of credit card expenses at the start of the new year. Check out our latest data on credit card spending habits.

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February 16, 2021
  • More Americans ready to get going. Travel and commute-related purchases rose 26.6% and 11.7% month-over-month from December, respectively. That said, spending on both categories are still down from a year ago.

 

  • Pets are now a growing part of the family budget. Though the overall share in spend is small, pet spending in January was up 15.1% month-over-month and up 24.9% year-over-year.

 

  • Americans are ready to have someone else cook their food. Restaurant and delivery spending made up 15.0% of total credit card expenses, rising 7.0% from December 2020 after months of declines. This uptick likely reflects both relaxing restrictions and more favorable weather conditions for outdoor dining.

 

  • Americans are still looking for at-home entertainment. Electronic purchases made up 13.8% of all credit card purchases in January. Spending in this category is up 103.3% from a year ago.

The Tally Credit Card Spending Index tracks spending habits of Americans carrying credit card debt. It ranks the share of dollars spent using credit cards each month at retailers and merchants in several categories, such as entertainment, groceries, personal care and fitness, shopping, restaurants and travel.

More Americans Booking Travel and Commuting to the Office

Though the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been slow, some Americans felt optimistic enough to make travel plans. In January, travel made up 6.3% of total credit card purchases. This was a 26.6% month-over-month increase from December 2020, though spending was still down 39.8% from a year ago. The last time the share of spend on travel hit 6.3% was in October 2020, when some people were likely booking their trips to go home for the holidays.

Travel spending, as defined as purchases from airlines, hotels, and vacation vendors, has been stunted for months after the pandemic grounded the entire travel industry to a halt. Between April 2020 and December 2020, travel-related credit card spending hovered between 2% to 6%. By comparison, the share of travel spending generally hovered between 8% and 12% throughout 2019.

Commute-related spending, which includes gas, public transportation and car maintenance, made up 7.2% of total credit card expenses in January. Looking at total spend, there was an 11.7% month-over-month increase from December, which suggests more Americans may have gone back to work in the office after the holidays.

However, spending in this category was still down 10.1% from a year ago before the pandemic forced many companies to become fully remote. It was also down 8.1% from October 2020, which was coming off a slight summer bump in commuting expenses. However, that was likely a mix of Americans taking road trip vacations and business reopenings.

Fewer Americans Cooked at Home in January

After being on the decline since September when the second round of stay-at-home orders were issued in many states, restaurant spending picked up in January. Making up 15.0% of total credit card expenses, restaurant spending includes outdoor dining, take out and food delivery.

Total spend in this category rose 7.0% from December 2020, though it was down 5.5% from a year ago. This uptick likely reflects both relaxing restrictions and more favorable weather conditions for outdoor dining.

Before April 2020, restaurant-related spending was typically above 15% each month. The spike between August 2020 and October 2020 is largely attributed to restaurants reopening for outdoor dining during the summer. Simultaneously, the lack of the usual travel and entertainment options that time of the year may have shifted spending to food.

Pandemic Fur Babies Are Priceless and Pricey

In 2020, pets-related spending peaked in April 2020 (1.7%) as many Americans rushed to adopt and buy dogs, cats and fish during the economic shutdown. This includes purchases and services from pet stores, veterinary clinics and animal shelters. Since that initial spike, spending in this category has hoovered between 1.4% and 1.6%. By comparison, the share of pet-related spending never rose above 1.3% in 2019.

In January, pets made up 1.7% of total credit card expenses. Total spending in this category was 15.1% higher than a month ago and 24.9% higher than a year ago. This suggests that spending on pets continues to be elevated and will likely continue to grow.

Demand for At-Home Entertainment Hold Steady

Retail made up a fifth of all credit card purchases (22.3%) in January. This category includes purchases made at retailers, such as Amazon, Target, Walmart and Macy’s. Following the holiday shopping season, total spend in this category fell 25.7% month-over-month from December 2020. Yet compared to a year ago, total spend in this category was up 10.3% from January 2020.

This increase was entirely driven by the elevated spending on electronics, which made up 13.8% of all credit card purchases in January. Electronic spending is defined specifically as purchases made at retailers such as Best Buy, GameStop and Apple. Though down 22.7% from a month ago, spending in this category is up 118.6% from a year ago. This suggests that Americans are still seeking out at-home entertainment options. Spending on electronics have been elevated since April 2020, making up at least 13% of total credit card expenses for months.

Meanwhile, clothing purchases in January only made up 5.7% of total credit card spending. Total spend on clothing fell 36.3% from December 2020, during which there was a slight bump in purchases during the holidays. This follows the months-long trend of depressed clothing sales steaming from the lack of social events and increase in working from home.

Methodology 

The Tally Credit Card Spending Index ranks the share of purchases made each month in several categories: entertainment, groceries, home improvement, personal care and fitness, pets, restaurants, shopping (includes electronics and clothing), travel, transportation, and other. The “other” category includes unspecified transactions and categories that are too small to be ranked separately.

The index is based on a statistically-significant sampling of anonymized credit card transactions made by Tally members, many of whom carry credit card debt, between January 2019 and January 2021. All historical transaction data has been normalized to the most current month.

Share of the spend measures the proportion of total dollars spent in each category relative to total credit card expenses within a month. Percentage changes are calculated using the total dollar amount spent in each category on a month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis.