Consumers are feeling a little better in August — but not by much

Shoppers check out at a Target store in Falls Church, Virginia.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

A key measure of consumers' attitudes is slightly higher so far this month, but didn't rise as much as expected, according to preliminary data released Friday.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment hit 90.4 in August, the University of Michigan said. Economists expected the consumer sentiment index to hit 91.5, versus 90 in July's final reading, according to a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate.

Consumers' more favorable prospects for the overall economy offset a small pullback in personal finances, said Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist.

"Most of the weakness in personal finances was among younger households who cited higher expenses than anticipated as well as somewhat smaller expected income gains," Curtin said in a statement. "Concerns about Brexit have faded amid rising references to the outcome of the presidential election as a source of uncertainty about future economic prospects."

It comes as presidential candidates have turned to discussions about the economy, including the housing market. Donald Trump recently told CNBC that Americans felt tremendous anger about not being able to buy homes.

Housing was a common theme among respondents, Curtin said, with a stand-out 48 percent of those surveyed mentioning low interest rates. But just 25 percent of those surveyed mentioned low housing prices, the lowest figure in a decade, Curtin said.

"Home buying has become particularly dependent on low interest rates," Curtin said.

The monthly survey of 500 consumers measures attitudes toward topics like personal finances, inflation, unemployment, government policies and interest rates.

The assessment of current economic conditions hit 106.1 in August, fading slightly from July's 109. A measure of consumers' future expectations rose to 80.3, from 77.8 in July's final reading.