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Spring Break Likely Drove Spending Boom on Travel and Restaurants

A year after pandemic lockdowns began, Americans are still consistently spending more on their homes, pets and electronics. 

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April 13, 2021

• Americans are itching to travel: Credit card spending on travel-related expenses rose 42.5% month-over-month — the biggest monthly gain recorded this year in any category.

• People want to go out to eat: Restaurant spending made up 17.6% of total credit card spending in March, rising 32.3% month-over-month.

• Home improvement spending not slowing down: Spending on contractors, home improvement and furniture rose 30.4% month-over-month in March.

• More Americans may be hitting the mall: Likely driven by more in-store shopping, retail purchases rose 17.6% month-over-month in March.

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.

Americans Ramp Up Travel and Commute Spending

Travel spending continues to soar as more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19.  In March, credit card spending on travel-related expenses rose 42.5% month-over-month, the biggest monthly gain recorded this year in any category. This bump was likely driven by the pent-up demand for travel that was unleashed during spring break this year. By comparison, travel spending rose just 4.3% month-over-month in February and 26.6% month-over-month in January.

Though still down nearly 20% from two years ago (March 2019), credit card purchases from airlines, hotels and vacation vendors made up 8.1% of total credit card purchases in March. During the height of the pandemic, the share of travel-related credit card spending hovered between 2% to 6% between April 2020 and December 2020.

Following a similar trend, commute-related expenses, which makes up 7.7% of total credit card spending, also experienced double-digit gains. Credit card transactions for gas, public transportation and car maintenance rose 30.7% month-over-month in March. Commute spending will likely continue to rise in the coming months as more companies ask their workforce to return to the office.

Restaurant Spending Grows as Onsite Dining Increases

Restaurant spending made up 17.6% of total credit card spending in March, continuing an upward trend back to pre-pandemic levels. This spike is possibly related to an increase in Americans willing to dine on-site at restaurants in addition to ordering takeout and delivery. Before the pandemic, restaurant-related spending was typically above 15.5% each month. The last time restaurant spending passed this threshold was between August 2020 and October 2020.

March marked the biggest gain as restaurant spending rose 32.3% month-over-month. Compared to months prior, spending on dining out (and ordering takeout and delivery) increased just 2.3% month-over-month in February and 7.0% month-over-month in January.

Home Improvement Spending Picking Up

Home improvement spending rose 30.4% month-over-month in March, making up 5.0% of total credit card spending. This includes credit card purchases at home improvement or furnishing retailers such Home Depot, Lowes or Crate&Barrel. It also includes transactions with contractors and landscapers.

With nowhere to go and needing to work from home, many home-owning Americans decided to upgrade their house during the pandemic. Simultaneously, some Americans took this opportunity to move, which likely required spending on home improvement goods and services to prep their current home to sell or to remodel a home they just bought.

In the year before the pandemic, the share of total credit card spending on home improvement never rose above 4%. But since March 2020, spending in this category has never fallen below 4%, peaking at 6.4% in May 2020.

Pet Spending Going Strong

At the start of the economic shutdown last year, many Americans rushed to add dogs and cats to their family. It drove a notable spike in credit card spending on pet-related goods and services in March 2020. Since that initial spike, spending in this category has hovered between 1.4% and 1.7%. By comparison, the share of pet-related spending never rose above 1.4% in 2019.

A year later, spending continues to be elevated and growing. In March, credit card transactions at pet stores, veterinary clinics and animal shelters made up 1.7% of total credit card spending. Though the share of spend is small relative to other categories, the actual dollars spent rose. Credit card spending on pets rose 23.8% year-over-year from March 2020 and 21.1% month-over-month in March 2021.

Haircuts and Gym Memberships Making a Comeback

Americans continue to make investments in themselves (perhaps to get themselves ready to socialize again). Personal care and fitness spending rose 20.7% month-over-month in March, following a 9.8% month-over-month increase in February and 8.5% month-over-month increase in January. Examples of personal care and fitness expenses include gym memberships fees, fitness class tuition and salon services such as haircuts, pedicures and tanning.

Compared to all other categories, personal care and fitness makes up 2.1% of all credit card purchases in March. This is notable because the share of spend in this category rarely rose above 2.0% throughout most of 2020 as many businesses were forced to shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, spending has largely ebbed and flowed with COVID-19 cases and local shutdown orders, temporarily spiking to 2.3% in September 2020.

Americans Likely Hitting the Malls Again to Shop

Once again, retail purchases made up the largest share of credit card purchases in March (21.9%), rising 17.6% month-over-month from February. This category, which includes purchases made at retailers such as Amazon, Target, Walmart and Macy’s, had been declining each month up until now. The jump in spend was likely driven by an increase in in-store purchases for electronics, clothing and all other retailers.

Electronics made up the bulk of the spending in this category. Purchases at retailers such as Best Buy, GameStop and Apple made up 12.5% of all credit card purchases in March, which increased 14.5% month-over-month from February. Similarly, spending on clothing retailers, which makes up 6.3% of all credit card transactions, rose 20.9% month-over-month in March.

 

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.

Each monthly index is based on a statistically significant sampling of approximately 200,000 anonymized credit card transactions in a given month made by Tally members, many of whom carry credit card debt. The index has been tracking credit card transactions since January 2019. 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.