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Canadians are more optimistic about the economy, though squeezed personal finances are keeping them away from plans to buy big-ticket items.

A monthly TNS survey of consumer confidence rose to its highest level since June as Canadians grew more upbeat about the present economic situation as well as prospects over the next six months.

Record debt levels and a post-holiday spending hangover may be curbing plans to go shopping. The survey also showed plans to buy pricier items like furniture and appliances has fallen. Worries about their wallet also caused them to spend less over this holiday season, with consumers reporting they spent an average of $1,008 compared to last year's average or $1,024.

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The drop in plans on future spending "at least shows that some Canadian consumers are heeding the message to watch their debt," said Norman Baillie-David, vice president of TNS Canada who oversees the survey. "We'll see in February whether or not that message sticks."

The survey comes as confidence levels have been yo-yoing over the past six months amid mixed economic signals. "Canadians are looking for some signal that will make us able to trust in the economy on a sustained basis," Mr. Baillie-David said.

The sub-index on sentiment on the present situation rebounded in January from a drop in December. The sub-index on expectations, which tracks consumers' outlook for the economy, household income and employment in the next six months, rose to its highest level since last May. And the "buy" sub-index, on whether it's a good time to make a major purchase, declined.

The poll of 1,015 Canadian adults was conducted in mid-January.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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