After nearly two years of relatively-low gasoline prices, U.S. consumers have saved a lot of money at the gas pump. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated consumers saved about $700 last year.
What they did with it is the million dollar question. Many economists assumed the savings would significantly boost the economy as consumers used their savings to satisfy pent-up demand. It hasn't worked out that way, as consumer spending hasn't risen that much.
So where is the money going? JP Morgan Chase conducted a survey of one million consumers to find out.
A 1% pay raise
The Chase report relies on a survey of Chase customers in 23 states. It found middle-income households spent about $480 less on gas in 2015 than in 2014. For 60% of households, that's the same as getting a 1% pay raise.
Of course, gasoline prices varied across the country. They were low in Oklahoma and Texas but fairly high in California and Nevada. All that was figured into the equation.
The report looked at gas spending and savings, the consumers most and least impacted, and how lower gas prices affected consumer spending.
The research found that households spent over $200, which is 45% of their gas savings, on things other than gasoline. They were most likely to spend the money at restaurants and retail merchants.
Spent a lot of it at gas stations
In an interesting finding, housesholds spent over $150 of their gas price savings at gas stations. This could mean a couple of things.
First, it could mean they bought more gasoline – perhaps for trips they might not have taken when prices were higher.
But they might have also been more inclined to go inside and purchase a beverage or snack – something they would have hesitated to do when gas prices were higher.
Chase notes that the results of its research, based on actual credit and debit card use, differ from previous estimates based on aggregate data. Those projections suggested consumers were banking their gas savings or paying down credit card debt.
So why hasn't there been a more significant boost to the economy? Who's to say there hasn't been?
True, the U.S. economy has been barely growing, but at least it's growing, while much of the rest of the world is slowing. It could be the impact of lower gasoline prices has been more keenly felt in the U.S., and the spending from the savings has simply helped the economy stay afloat.