Tax Day dud: Americans planning to stay frugal with smaller returns this year

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Does your annual tax return go straight into a vacation or a shopping spree at your local mall? For many, that won’t be the case in 2023. Many Americans are looking to get frugal with their tax returns this year, according to a new survey examining numerous aspects of modern life. Unfortunately, the poll also finds that many Americans are likely to receive smaller tax refunds than they have in previous years.

The February 2023 Consumer Food Insights Report reveals that most Americans won’t be going out to spend their tax returns this year. Interestingly, this survey also examined religious demographics and features new data pertaining to frozen food consumption.

More specifically, the survey, conducted by a team at Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability, assessed food spending, consumer satisfaction and values, support of agricultural and food policies, and trust in information sources. The survey included a total of 1,200 consumers across the United States.

“Of those who will be spending their tax refunds, improving food purchases is top of mind, which suggests that refunds are a part of reinforcing some households’ food situation,” says Jayson Lusk, the head and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economicsat Purdue, who leads the center, in a university release.

Americans, on average, are expecting a tax refund of only $1,940. The majority plan to use that money for savings, investment, or to reduce debt. Meanwhile, when it comes to food spending and trips to the grocery store, U.S. consumers appear to be in something of a holding pattern.

“There seems to be some optimism about food inflation improving, but consumers are not willing or able to spend more on food than they are currently,” Prof. Lusk adds. “I would also not expect food spending to start falling unless economic conditions worsen, which is a real possibility.”

Frugal Americans love to shop in the frozen food aisle

Notably, the poll examined the role frozen foods play in many Americans’ diets. Frozen vegetables, more precisely, are the most common items consumers tend to pick up from the freezer aisle. As far as why this is the case, price appears to be the primary motivator. Over 60 percent of surveyed consumers believe fresh food is somewhat or much better nutritionally than frozen food.

“For most foods, the science does not support this belief, or the difference in nutrition is not big enough to matter,” Prof. Lusk comments.

Some of the other notable findings include:

  • Religious consumers (Protestants, Catholics, and Jews) tend to be happier with both their diets and their lives.
  • Religious affiliation correlates with certain food behaviors like vegetarianism, but few generalizable trends emerged.
  • Consumers, for the most part, believe fresh food is better than frozen food. Frozen foods, however, are more affordable.
  • The average length of time that households are staying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has continued to increase over 13 months.
  • Reported food spending remains flat on a monthly basis, despite many consumers’ belief that food inflation is easing.
grocery shopping
(Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels)

The survey did not find any change in the food insecurity rate, indicating most people are managing under current conditions — according to Sam Polzin, a food and agriculture survey scientist for the center and co-author of the report.

Polzin adds, however, that food insecure Americans relying on SNAP benefits have now seen their increased COVID-19 SNAP benefits end. Data on religious demographics revealed few clear patterns besides the finding that Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish people tend to report higher rates of both diet satisfaction and life happiness.

“Other research similarly shows that religious people are happier than those who are unaffiliated with a religious tradition, so these results are relatively unsurprising,” Polzin explains. “However, the fact that people who we have grouped under other faiths are not doing as well is notable.”

“I might guess that more people who are inactive members of a religious group or who broadly identify as spiritual selected the ‘other’ option, which might relate to their happiness.”

Polzin also observed that religion was an inexact social indicator regarding food-related behaviors, beliefs, and trust.

“Our takeaway from many of these sections should be that religious affiliation does not provide a very coherent lens for understanding most food behaviors,” Polzin concludes. “We would have more success identifying the influence of religion in the context of other socioeconomic and demographic variables.”

Prof. Lusk discusses the report more in his blog.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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