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Non-essential spend jumps 16% as longer and freer days put spring in the step of consumers despite cost of living rise, Nationwide reveals

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

Consumer spending grew by 16 per cent in March with the amount spent on non-essentials reaching its highest level so far this year, according to Nationwide Building Society’s latest Spending Report.

Longer days, better weather and the fact that for the first time since March 2020 people faced no domestic legal restrictions meant that many took advantage to get out and socialise with friends, prepare for upcoming holidays, and spend money on themselves.

Data from Nationwide’s March report shows that the number of transactions made by the Society’s members during March jumped by 15 per cent compared to February – from around 190 million to just over 217 million – with a total of nearly £8.1 billion spent.

Non-essential spending reached nearly £2.8 billion in March, rising by 16 per cent, with the number of transactions exceeding the 90 million mark for the first time this year. In fact, there were 14 per cent more transactions made on non-essentials in March compared to the previous month. Holiday, airline travel and cruises spend continues to see growth as people plan for or take what may be their first trip abroad since the pandemic started.

Spending on charities also saw a significant rise in March, both compared to February (+44%) and the same period last year (+45%). This increase includes significant contributions to charities supporting Ukraine.

Essential spend also increased in March to nearly £3.5 billion – up 13 per cent on February and 11 per cent on March last year, when lockdown was still in place. Fuel and electric car charging spend is up by more than half (56%) on March last year as the Society’s spending data reflects the high price of petrol and diesel. Spending in supermarkets also saw a 15 per cent increase in March as inflation and the rising cost of food and drink continues to bite.

As expected, spend on utilities and bills continues to be higher than it was at the same point last year. Spending on credit cards is also up by nearly a third (31%) compared to March last year, and up 17 per cent on the amount spent in February.

The emerging pressure on household finances has led Nationwide to urge those who are struggling financially to get in touch with their bank or building society should they need additional support.

Non-essential spend

Non-essential spending by Nationwide members reached nearly £2.8 billion in March – up 16 per cent on February and based on nearly 95 million transactions (+14% vs February). This has been driven by increases in spending on charity, gardening, clothing, and holidays:

  • Spending on charities reached £60 million in March (+44% vs February and +45% in March 2022). Much of this is likely due to people donating to the humanitarian effort due to the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Gardening spend also rocketed in March (+83% vs February) as the start of spring encouraged people to venture into their gardens. Spending is, however, down 19 per cent on March 2021 as without the lockdown restrictions of last year, people are spending less time at home.
  • March has seen people look to spend money to look after themselves and their bodies with health and beauty spend up 48 per cent on March 2021. The ability to be able to get out and about and socialise more than was possible last year has encouraged people to focus on looking and feeling good.
  • With no restrictions in place, longer days and improving weather, eating and drinking spend was up 11 per cent on February (and +147% vs March 2021) as people met with family and friends in pubs, bars and restaurants.
NON-ESSENTIAL SPEND (March 2022)
Spend category Total spend in March 2022 (£) % Change vs Feb 2022 % Change vs March 2021 Total transactions (March 2022) % Change vs Feb 2022 % Change vs March 2021
Airline travel 58,041,320 15% 345% 304,524 20% 456%
Charities 60,352,658 44% 45% 2,328,881 21% 55%
Clothing/Shoes 196,312,192 21% 58% 4,450,216 17% 67%
Cruises 9,618,007 17% 505% 28,746 25% 254%
Dating 1,306,384 9% 6% 66,171 9% 3%
Digital Goods 50,625,777 11% 6% 5,667,038 13% 0%
DIY/home improvements 291,973,631 18% 3% 4,173,834 17% 0%
Eating/Drinking 459,003,798 11% 147% 34,716,705 14% 135%
Gambling 210,118,811 15% -9% 8,561,949 13% -6%
Gardening 29,808,731 83% -19% 862,772 52% 9%
General retail/dept stores 276,860,089 16% -10% 9,841,725 13% -16%
Health/Beauty 192,543,584 16% 48% 5,606,924 17% 67%
Holidays 285,943,461 19% 247% 1,704,362 21% 375%
Leisure/recreation 155,341,469 15% 132% 4,907,860 2% 193%
Other shops 485,958,120 11% 8% 9,612,828 15% 25%
Subscriptions 21,574,931 17% 0% 1,801,263 19% 6%
TOTAL 2,785,382,964 16% 37% 94,635,798 14% 45%

Essential spend

Nearly £3.5 billion was spent by Nationwide members on essential items in March (+11% versus March 2021) with around 106 million transactions completed (+20% versus same time last year):

  • Spending on fuel and electric car charging soared to nearly £290 million in March – a 56 per cent increase on March 2021 as prices at the pump have risen significantly compared to 12 months previously.
  • People made more trips to the supermarket in March – the number of transactions increased by 17 per cent versus February, with spend reaching around £974 million (+15% on February) as rising inflation and the increasing cost of food and drink continuing.
  • Spending on debt was 16 per cent higher compared to March 2021 as more people turn to credit to make purchases.
  • Utilities and bills spend was up 10 per cent compared to March last year due to the rising cost of gas and electricity.

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