Christmas: Consumers in a buoyant mood

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The Independent Online
An average pounds 654 per person will be spent on food, presents and entertainment this Christmas, it was claimed yesterday. Stephen Goodwin looks at two surveys which show consumers in a buoyant mood but wary of borrowing.

All those jokes about Yorkshire parsimony - the deep pockets and short arms - are not true after all. The Tykes spend more money on Christmas than anyone else in Britain.

According to research by National Opinion Polls for the investment group Save and Prosper, some 41 per cent of Yorkshire folk will spend more than pounds 500 this Christmas compared to 32 per cent for the population as a whole.

The finding is at least partially confirmed by the latest American Express Consumer Spending Report. Although the geographical area and sums are bigger, Amex found "Northerners" to be the big festive spenders, expecting to splash out an average of pounds 671 on food, gifts and entertaining, compared with a national average of pounds 654. NOP put the average at pounds 568.90.

However, where the surveys really disagree is over who spends least. "The West Country are the real Scrooges, with 81 per cent spending under pounds 500," concluded NOP.

Not so, said Amex. In a finding that will give deep satisfaction to Northerners, the card company fingered the people of the affluent South-east as the meanest. Consumers there expect to spend an average of pounds 607 on food, gifts and entertaining.

The inhabitants of the most well-heeled corner of the country spend an average pounds 367 on Christmas presents compared with a national average of pounds 378. They are also more likely to leave shopping until the last minute.

Overall, the Amex report, conducted by British Market Research Bureau International, found consumers feeling more confident about their economic situation. Three-quarters of the 767 adults surveyed said they were well or better off compared with last year and 40 per cent expected their financial situation to improve in the next 12 months.

However, consumers seem to be adopting a careful, rather than a carefree approach to spending. The recession of the early Nineties lingers in the public mind, perhaps refreshed by recent interest rate rises. Some 85 per cent said that hey would only buy what they could afford and 72 per cent said they would rather do without than take a loan.

"What we are seeing as the festive season approaches is a new consumer mindset," said Cary Cooper, professor of psychology at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

"The Brits who are working longer and harder than anywhere else in Europe see Christmas as a time to reward themselves for their hard work throughout the world.

"But although there is a growing sense of confidence in the UK ... there is still a strong element of careful spending. This is in contrast with the late Eighties where the spend-spend-spend culture prevailed," the professor said.

Not content with stoking divisions between the regions, the Amex report also found a gender gap in spending. Whether out of generosity or extravagance, men claim to spend on average pounds 150 more over Christmas than women. One in 10 men expect to spend more than pounds 1,000 on gifts alone - and presumably a high proportion of them are in Yorkshire.