Inflation and Consumer Spending

Read this section for an in-depth look at the relationship between inflation, the economy, and how we spend our money. As you read this material, consider the effect of inflation on your purchasing power and buying habits. As the rate of inflation increases, there is a decline in your purchasing power as a consumer, but a decrease in inflation and lower prices can also affect what we buy. For example, as gas prices decline, we see an associated decline in the rate of hybrid car purchases. List three ways that inflation might affect your life.

Consumer Confidence

Consumer confidence is an economic indicator that measures the degree of optimism that consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal financial situation. How confident people feel about the stability of their incomes determines their spending activity and therefore serves as one of the key indicators for the overall shape of the economy. In essence, if the economy expands, causing consumer confidence to be higher, consumers will be making more purchases. On the other hand, if the economy contracts or is in bad shape, confidence is lower, and consumers tend to save more and spend less. A month-to-month diminishing trend in consumer confidence suggests that in the current state of the economy most consumers have a negative outlook on their ability to find and retain good jobs.

The ability to predict major changes in consumer confidence allows businesses to gauge the willingness of consumers to make new purchases. As a result, businesses can adjust their operations and the government can prepare for changing tax revenue. If confidence is dropping and consumers are expected to reduce their spending, most producers will tend to reduce their production volumes accordingly. For example, if manufacturers anticipate that consumers will reduce retail purchases, especially for expensive and durable goods, they will cut down their inventories in advance and may delay investing in new projects and facilities. The government will get ready for the reduction in future tax revenues. On the other hand, if consumer confidence is improving, people are expected to increase their purchases of goods and services. In anticipation of that change, manufacturers can boost production and inventories. Large employers can increase hiring rates. Governments can expect improved tax revenues based on the increase in consumer spending.

Consumer confidence is formally measured by the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI), a monthly release designed to assess the overall confidence, relative financial health, and spending power of the US average consumer. The CCI is an important measure used by businesses, economic analysts, and the government in order to determine the overall health of the economy.

US Consumer Price Index 1913-2006
Since 1980, owing to specific targeting of inflation, the change in the US CPI has mostly stayed below 5% annually.