Middle class cuts spending on alcohol, clothes, eating out

In these troubled economic times, new data suggests the middle-class is cutting back spending in certain areas:

Households in the middle fifth of the population sliced their average annual spending to $41,150 in 2009, the Labor Department said Tuesday in its annual spending breakdown. That was down 3.1% from 2007 and 3.5% from 2008, the steepest one-year drop since records began in 1984. The drop came even as those households’ after-tax income remained relatively stable over the two years, at an average $45,199.

Middle-class households reined in spending mainly on discretionary items. On average, from 2007 to 2009, they cut spending 20.1% on alcoholic beverages, 15.2% on clothing, and 9.5% on restaurants and other food away from home. They also spent less on some groceries, cutting back on items such as fresh milk and cream, as well as seafood.

Some of the change in spending could reflect a shift to cheaper alternatives, such as picking McDonald’s over sushi.

So when middle-class families need to cut back on spending, this is where they limit their spending: alcohol, clothing, and eating out. Presumably, more positive economic climates lead to more spending in these areas.

This is interesting in that it provides some indication of what the middle class considers “luxury items.” These are not generally big-ticket things but having the ability to drink more alcohol, buy more clothing, and eat out more may be the height of middle-class enjoyment. To reach the middle class may mean that one is able to spend in these areas without worrying too much about the budget.

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