The economic downturn last year caused holders of American Express cards to slash spending in such key categories as electronics, apparel and travel.

However, cardholders increased their spending on education, pets, groceries and medical or health-related activities, according to data American Express Co. released this week.

Amex's business insights group gleaned the data from a representative sample of Amex cardholders' aggregate spending in various categories last year and compared the findings with similar data from 2007.

Amex customers in 2009 spent 29% less on electronics than they did two years earlier, 26% less on both hotels and apparel, 25% less on computers, 24% less on home improvement and 21% less on air travel, the issuer said.

Expenditures rose by 11% on education, 7% on pets and pet-related items, 3% on groceries and 2% on medical and health-related items.

The gains in those four categories were more pronounced among affluent cardholders.

Affluent Amex customers spent 20% more on education, 10% more on pets and 5% more on medical and health care. Their spending on groceries also increased by 3%.

Amex cardholders' spending on mobile phone services was one of the most resilient spending categories, declining by only 4% for general cardholders, according to the report. However, nonaffluent men ages 35 to 55 cut mobile phone service spending by 41%, the data show.

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