By Hadley Malcolm, USA TODAY
After 9/11, political leaders and commentators had a suggestion to boost American spirits and fuel patriotism: Go shopping.
This Fourth of July, more Americans are doing the opposite: barbecuing instead of buying.
A fifth of Americans, 21%, said they don't plan to celebrate Independence Day and those who are plan to spend less than last year, according to a survey released Sunday of a little more than 1,000 people by Visa.
That's up from the 18% who said they weren't joining in July 4 festivities last year. Those who plan to celebrate are spending an average of $191 on everything from travel to food to fireworks, down from $216 last year, according to a survey released Sunday by Visa.
On the other hand, nearly half of those celebrating will watch or light fireworks, according to a monthly consumer survey by the National Retail Federation. And close to 68% of consumers said they'll host or attend a barbecue, the most in the nine-year history of the NRF survey.
Unpatriotic? Or smart for Americans' wallets?
"My hope is that people have really sort of changed their priorities," says Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs. "The Founding Fathers do not want us to go into debt to buy sparklers," says Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs.
Midwesterners plan to spend the most at an average of $211, while Northeasterners will spend the least, an average of $171, the Visa survey indicates.
Any drop in spending and celebrating is most likely due to the fact the holiday falls on a Wednesday this year, consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says.
And she adds, "I don't believe that Americans have ever shopped to be 'patriotic.' " People really don't look at spending in a macro sense - it's very individualistic."
"Fourth of July is all about community, and that's a white-hot want right now for many Americans who feel increasingly disconnected (due to) divisive politics ... and less-nourishing techno-fueled relationships," consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says.
Joe Joyce of Whitefish Bay, Wis., plans to celebrate by attending a community parade and barbecue that includes fireworks in the evening.
"The 4th is the best holiday of the year," he says. "It is low key, is always outdoors, and is a great way to spend time with families and friends."
Erin Kelley of Phoenix, says she will most likely have a barbecue with family and friends, because "with budgets being tighter and time off being limited, casual in-home celebrations seem like the way to go."
Fourth of July isn't considered a consumer spending holiday, anyway, says NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis.
"The next big test (of consumer spending) will be back-to-school," she says.
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY