Consumers Still Cautious About Spending

Even though the economy is showing signs of improvement, a well-regarded consumer-spending index remained flat in July for the third straight month.

The monthly Deloitte Consumer Spending Index—which tracks tax rates, unemployment claims, real wages and home prices to measure consumers' cash flow—stayed at 4.4 in July.

"Real home prices continue to move higher from a year ago, while initial unemployment claims continue to trend downward," said Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's senior U.S. economist. "Real wages are still improving, albeit at a slower pace. While the index has remained at the same level in the past three months, continued gains in housing and unemployment may help lift consumer confidence and spur future spending."

When it comes to Back-to-School shopping, 60 percent of shoppers said they would buy only what the family needed. About one-third said they would spend more—but mainly due to the perception of higher prices and children needing more expensive items for school.

"Despite their improved optimism, consumers may be holding out for more proof that economic stability is lasting before any splurging, meaning retailers have to make their merchandise and offers extremely attractive to finish the Back-to-School shopping season strong," said Alison Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and retail and distribution sector leader.

The index showed that the tax rate is up 5.8 percent from last year and is now at 11.9 percent; initial unemployment claims moved down 5.8 percent from June 2012 to nearly 346,000 this June; hourly real wages ticked up 0.6 percent from last year to $8.78; and real new home prices in the United States rose 10.6 percent from last year to $107,000.