What would you do with an extra $700 in your pocket? Most Americans say they’d save it. In fact, they tend to spend it—and a lot of that spending happens at restaurants.
This isn’t just a hypothetical question. A study released by JP Morgan Chase finds that the average American is saving $700 a year because of the low price of gasoline.
When asked what they plan to do with the savings from cheap gas, most Americans report that they are saving it and paying down debt. But after analyzing actual spending patterns, the study concluded that they’re actually spending about 80% of the windfall.
“The prevailing wisdom was that consumers were using their gas savings to repair their balance sheets, perhaps because they viewed the price declines as temporary or were suffering from a ‘debt overhang,'” the report says. The actual findings were “significantly” different.
The study didn’t speculate on why consumers don’t follow through on their plans, but it’s not that surprising—research has shown that consumers often have trouble saving, even when they think they’re doing a good job of belt-tightening.
The study found that consumers, especially those in the South and Midwest, who gain the most from falling gas prices, are spending 80 cents for every dollar saved on services, nondurable and durable goods, In plain English, that means Americans are snagging the latest gadgets, stocking up on groceries, and enjoying nights out complete with dinner and a movie.
There’s some good news in this extra spending. That spending will help boost the economy, of course—a good thing given the potential drag from slowing growth in China and elsewhere.
Gas prices have been on a steady decline for most of 2015—the average price of a gallon is well below $3 in nearly every state. If gas prices stay low or drop further, consumers may spend even more of their gas pump windfall.
The findings were drawn from a sample of roughly 25 million consumers who complete at least five credit or debit card transactions a month, according to JP Morgan Chase.
If you want to make a conscious effort to save that extra $700 in gas savings, try things like automating your savings and ignoring the windfall in the first place. Your future self will thank you.