The cold weather this winter could hit Minnesotans where it hurts -- in their wallets.
Xcel Energy officials say the cost of natural gas is about 15 percent higher this heating season than the previous one. The utility's 460,000 Minnesota customers used 18 percent more natural gas this January than last year.
If consumers are paying that much more for energy they very likely have less money for shopping and entertainment, Minneapolis economist Paul Anton said.
"I would guess that, for example, restaurants might be seeing less traffic and out of home entertainment especially live events theaters and concerts," Anton said. "I guess hockey fans show up regardless, but in some other cases I can see that that would make a difference."
Federal government officials say Americans spent more in January, but that high heating bills because of the harsh winter drove the increased spending.
Xcel Energy officials say despite significantly higher heating costs the company is not seeing an unusually large number of customers who are having problems paying their utility bills.