All work and no play: Americans skip leisure activities because of cost, survey finds

More than one in five Americans said they could not afford movies, vacations, or sports events because they were trying to pay off credit card bills or student loans.
Posted at 8:49 AM, Aug 15, 2019

Americans are passing up everything from ballgames to brunch, citing high prices and the burden of everyday bills.

A new survey found that roughly two-thirds of Americans say they’ve skipped out on a recreational activity such as an overnight trip, sporting event, concert or dining out within the past year because of how much it cost.

“It underscores the struggle that many Americans are constantly dealing with, with respect to their personal finances,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at

Among the survey respondents who said cost has impacted their leisure activities, more than 40 percent said they’ve decided not to take a vacation (defined in the survey as one or more nights away from home). About one-third said they’ve declined to attend a concert or play, and 28 percent said they’ve passed on an occasion to dine out. Roughly one in four said they’ve skipped sporting events, amusement parks, zoos, aquariums and even going to the movies. (Respondents could choose multiple answers.)

Predictably, some demographics were hit harder than others: About three-quarters each of adults under the age of 35 and parents with kids under the age of 18 said they couldn’t afford a recreational activity over the past year.

The roots of that unaffordability varied, and Hamrick said the responses are indicative of how we view our disposable income today. Half of respondents who said they didn’t participate in recreation because of the cost said it was because the activity was either too expensive or a poor value.

“To the extent that we have a sense that consumers have placed more of a priority on spending for experiences over the last decade… there is a downside in the increased interest in experiences,” Hamrick said. “They’re not like a good that one takes home and gets some enjoyment out of for a prolonged period of time.”

Other responses reveal how Americans are thinking about what they can afford now — and will be able to afford in the future. Bankrate found that 43 percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough money for leisure activities after paying everyday bills. Nearly as many — 41 percent — said they were trying to save money for something else. More than one in five said they were trying to pay off credit card bills, and 13 percent cited student loans.

“We hope it involves a heightened sense of trying to be prudent,” Hamrick said.

Data indicates that high housing costs could be contributing to the crunch: According to ATTOM Data Solutions, median prices on single-family homes and condos rose nearly 11 percent from the first to the second quarter of 2019, hitting a record high of $266,000.

Although housing is a top expense for most households, it’s not the only one that’s rising. The consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in July, higher than the 0.2 percent increase expected

“Labor cost and tariff pressures are visible,” Pantheon Macroeconomics chief economist Ian Shepherdson said in a client note on Tuesday. “Some CPI components, hit by labor costs or tariffs or both, are now rising quite sharply.”

Trump announced earlier this week that he was delaying the looming Sept. 1 implementation of a 10 percent tariff on a wide range of consumer goods until mid-December, and exempting some items such as cell phones entirely.

Americans are still paying the price, though: The New York Federal Reserve estimated that tariffs already in place cost the average American household $831 a year — an amount that roughly wipes out the average benefit of the 2017 tax cuts.

The looming worry is that higher costs on goods and household expenses will make Americans unwilling to spend, even if they still have the means.

“Aside from its direct impact on spending, the much more important issue is how much it lessens overall consumer confidence,” Richard Curtin, chief economist for the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers, wrote in the report accompanying the most recent survey.

“We know that business leaders are somewhat cautious about the outlook because of trade tensions,” Hamrick said. “If consumer confidence feeds into weakening spending, that would truly be cause for concern.”