Data from Barclaycard also revealed spending on hotels, resorts and accommodation increased by 7.8% - its highest growth since before the first lockdown.
Other leisure sectors also saw growth with the entertainment industry seeing a rise for the first time in more than 16 months – up 8.1% as consumers bought cinema, theatre and sporting event tickets.
This came as 32% of Brits said they expect to spend more on leisure activities and day trips this summer while 16% plan to spend more attending shows and events.
Meanwhile, spending on essential items grew by 14% last month, compared to July 2019 – driven by supermarket shopping (up 16.6%) and spend at specialist food and drink stores (up 78.5%).
Fuel spend was up 4.1% - the highest since before the pandemic hit the UK, which Barclaycard said could be attributed to rising fuel prices and more people going on staycations and returning to offices by car.
Cooling off period
Non-essential spending also recorded its highest growth since before the first UK lockdown – increasing by 10.4%.
Furthermore, a quarter (25%) of consumers said they had been dipping into savings to make the most of post-lockdown life – this rose to 39% among 18 to 34-year-olds.
However, figures also showed there were signs of the initial pent-up demand from lockdown beginning to cool off in some areas.
This included restaurant spending, which had been steadily improving since restrictions started to ease in March, closing the gap on 2019. But, July showed a dip in spending and the gap widened again to a drop of 13.1%.
Moreover, takeaways saw record growth of almost three quarters (72.3%) – the highest since before the pandemic started.
Face-to-face retail (excluding grocery) also saw a decrease in demand last month, after a post-lockdown boom, as spending slipped back into decline by 0.2%. At the same time, online retail (excluding grocery) grew by 47.4%.
Confidence in household finances was at 72% but confidence in the UK economy dropped slightly – down to 33%.
This came as almost two thirds (61%) of consumers were concerned every day expenses will rise as restrictions lift and more than half (55%) said they were being more careful to find value in the purchases they make.
Head of consumer products Raheel Ahmed said: “July’s major sports fixtures and the heatwave kept the nation in good spirits, providing more reasons to celebrate together and giving the entertainment industry its long-awaited boost back into growth.
“While some sectors took a small step back as the post-lockdown ‘honeymoon’ period cooled, July was a positive month overall.
“However, with inflation expected to rise, it will be interesting to see how this impacts consumer spending behaviour over the coming months.”