Economic forecasts? National numbers on consumer spending? Who needs them, when we’ve got user data from personal finance site Mint.com?
Okay, so we’re not talking about data that represents the US public as a whole — not only is it a limited group, it’s also risky comparing data between time periods, since Mint’s user base has grown and changed since the service launched in the fall of 2007. But hey, the Mountain View, Calif. company can provide some real insight into how its more than 1 million (presumably budget-conscious and tech-savvy) users are spending their money. And when you’re looking for signs of economic hope, you can’t be too picky.
Mint says it has been releasing quarterly reports on user spending since the beginning of 2008, and every quarter since then, spending-per-user (measured in eight categories) has declined, falling by 15 percent over the last year. That steady finally stopped in the second quarter of 2009, when spending actually increased by about $400, or a little more than 3 percent. Also encouraging: The biggest jump was in shopping and travel, where spending increased 17 percent, perhaps showing that users who had been holding off on purchases are starting to spend again.
Don’t confuse this with a huge surge, though; even with the increase, spending levels in Q2 2009 were 12 percent below those in the same period last year.
Mint is also starting to release data about spending with specific retailers. Just for laughs, I asked to see a comparison of spending at Fry’s Electronic’s and Apple Stores. It’s doesn’t make sense to compare the total amount spent at each store, since there are many more Apple Stores than Fry’s locations, so I’ve become more interested in the Apple data alone — apparently there are a lot of Apple fanboys and fangirls among Mint’s users. For example, those users spent an average of more than $400 each in Apple Stores last month, adding up to a total of $20 million.