Survey Offers Glimpse at How Americans are Tightening Belts


Citing unemployment, financial emergencies and credit card debt, 54% of respondents in a recent poll reported being unable to save money over the past 12 months, while 46% of respondents had managed to put some money away.

Among Americans who were able to save money over the past year, most did so by trimming discretionary spending – eating out less, cutting back on travel and resisting the urge to buy clothes, according to a survey conducted for the AICPA by Harris Interactive.

Half of those who saved reported dining out less, while 46% cut back on travel and 35% slashed clothing expenses. Other reductions included outlays for medical expenses (16%) and higher education (12%).

Sixty percent of respondents, whether they have been able to save or not, regarded saving as part of their lifestyle. Alternatively, one-third of respondents considered saving a “necessary burden,” something they don’t want to do, but feel they must. Jordan Amin, CPA, chair of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a press release that it’s gratifying that so many people, including those who were not able to save money, saw saving as a lifestyle element.

“Saving is an essential element of financial literacy,” Amin said in the release. “But financial literacy, more than anything, is thinking strategically about your saving and spending. We never say ‘don’t spend,’ but we do urge people to judge spending prudently.”

The survey findings come a month after the Department of Commerce reported consumer spending increased 0.3% in February over the previous month, the fifth consecutive monthly gain.

The majority of survey respondents (54%) were employed, but among them, nearly two-thirds experienced some form of job-related financial reduction in the past 12 to 18 months. The most frequently cited causes of financial reduction were delayed/eliminated wage increases (33%) and reduction/elimination of bonuses (32%), but others included additional working hours without a corresponding increase in income, cuts in health benefits, wage reductions and elimination of 401(k) matches.

In an effort to understand how the economic crisis has affected behaviors and attitudes among the general public, the AICPA participated in the Harris Interactive March 2010 Harris Poll Quorum telephone omnibus study. Interviews took place between March 17 and March 21. The Harris Poll Quorum is a bimonthly survey of 1,009 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The AICPA commissioned the survey in recognition of April as Financial Literacy Month.

The National CPA Financial Literacy Commission oversees two programs to help Americans achieve financial well-being. The first, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy ( 360financialliteracy.org), educates Americans on how financial issues affect them at 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement. A second campaign, Feed the Pig ( feedthepig.org), created with the Ad Council, encourages Americans ages 25 to 34 to begin preparing for long-term financial security.

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