The cheapest gasoline prices during the holiday shopping season in four years have put billions back in the pockets of shoppers, but it's unclear how much of it will be funneled into their holiday spending plans as consumers continue to hunker down.
The national average for gasoline at the pump Friday was $3.19 per gallon, 25 cents less than this time last year. The price has been falling steadily from about $3.52 on Sept. 1, and is way off its February highs of $3.72.
Even so, recent surveys show consumer attitudes are still not upbeat, and a Gallup poll this week shows consumers pared back spending plans to less than they expected to spend even just last month. Slow jobs growth, budgetary chaos in Washington, and the administrative problems with the Affordable Care Act were all mentioned by Gallup as possible factors souring consumer attitudes.
"I think the consumers will benefit from relief at the pump. I think that gas prices are only factor affecting their spending right now," said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. "There's certainly some uncertainty that's been persistent because of slower job growth and wrangling on federal finances in Washington."