Use of Records in the Interview Survey
Some respondents do not keep records for expenditures, nor do they keep receipts that specify item amounts. If they have records, they may only keep grand totals without breakouts by item. When records are available, they likely are not organized in a way that allows them to be used effectively (or efficiently) during the interview. Field representatives have reported that a respondent occasionally goes in search for a receipt or record, to return sometime later without it.
Respondents who keep electronic records may not have them up to date in their computer when the interview is conducted and therefore cannot use them to provide accurate answers. A respondent’s electronic records are most likely organized differently from how they are requested in the interview. For example, a respondent may have a record of automobile fuel costs, but may not keep it separately for different cars; purchases at Safeway may not be broken down by food and other household items, all being considered “groceries.”
Paper receipts may be problematic as well. Groups of purchases are likely to be combined into one receipt, and that receipt may be difficult to decipher. Coupon discounts, discounts for the use of a particular credit card, or special “in-store” sales may be shown separately on receipts, so even a conscientious respondent may have difficulty understanding what was actually paid for a specific item. The receipt probably does not include rebates that consumers receive at a later point in time. Receipts vary enormously across stores, with abbreviations, special coding, and character limitations affecting how a particular purchase is described. The respondent may not be able to interpret that information, especially as the memory of the specific purchase fades over days and weeks.
BLS conducted a study on use of records for the CE, using data from CE interviews conducted between April 2006 and March 2008. Following each interview, the field representative recorded whether the respondent used records and which types of records were used. Edgar (2010) indicated that the study involved 44,300 interviews with 21,011 unique households She reported that in 39 percent of interviews, the respondent never or almost never used records, while 31 percent always or almost always used records. Younger respondents were less likely to use records than older respondents. Interviews were longer when records were used and shorter when they were not used. There was a higher level of total expenditures reported when records were used. Those always or almost always using records