Scared to Prepared: How the Great Recession Changed Our Spending Habits

The sting of the financial crisis can still be felt five years on. But individuals have moved beyond finger-pointing

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Mark Hooper / Gallery Stock

In the months following the financial crisis, just about everyone got religion. They rediscovered core values and began to place relationships and experiences above material things. But it was anybody’s guess how long this earnest austerity would last.

Five years later the economy is growing steadily, housing is recovering, and the stock market is at record highs. Certainly, there are signs of letting go, especially in the art market where The Scream recently sold for $119 million, the most ever for a painting at auction.

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Yet for the vast majority, the shock of the Great Recession lingers — and that’s a good thing in terms of how most folks are managing their money. In a new survey from Fidelity, nearly half of respondents say even now they are saving more, reducing debt and building an emergency fund.

A new survey from Principal Financial finds that the number of workers preparing for retirement is on the rise and that most workers who expect a tax refund plan to save or invest it, or pay down debt. Before the crisis, people commonly cited going on vacation and buying big ticket items as well.

Perhaps most telling, the Fidelity survey found that 78% of those who have taken steps to shore up their finances say the measures are part of a new and permanent personal financial strategy. “The sheer number of people who say the changes are permanent was probably most surprising,” says Ken Hevert, vice president of retirement products at Fidelity.

People are moving from scared to prepared, Hevert says. When the financial crisis hit, 64% said they were scared and 45% said they were prepared; today, 45% say they are scared and 61% say they are prepared — a near perfect reversal. In general, those who feel prepared are the ones who have cut debt, increased savings and built an emergency fund.

There remains ample blame to go around when it comes to who caused the financial crisis: 38% blame greedy and reckless banks, 38% blame ignorant and spendthrift individuals, and 17% cite the regulatory lapses of government. Yet no matter who is most to blame for the collapse, almost everyone (97%) now says it is entirely (56%) or partly (41%) the personal responsibility of individuals to steer their own financial future.

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“The finger-pointing is over,” Hevert says, adding that individuals seem to understand that no one can change the past, and no one is going to save for them in the future.

The Fidelity survey was of households with investments, and so it may not ring true universally. Some broader readings show that the savings rate has declined, and debt is inching back up.

Still, for many the Great Recession has provided a durable silver lining in the same manner that led the Depression-era generation to a lifetime of frugality. It may be too early to declare victory over excessive spending. But we’re beyond a good start, and the indications are that a great many people have changed their personal financial ways for the better, possibly for good.

22 comments
markb3699
markb3699

It's good that more people are taking personal responsibility, but what about the corporations and banksters who prey on them? They're like a ball and chain around the feet of everyday Americans. Time they took responsibility too.

HowToFeedFamily
HowToFeedFamily

This can be a good thing - living within our means (and the means of the planet) can be good for the body, good for the planet and good for the purse!

GeorgiaGrahams
GeorgiaGrahams

Gianna. even though Eva`s report is amazing... on thursday I bought a brand new Land Rover Defender since I been making $5433 this last month and also ten thousand this past-munth. without a doubt its the most rewarding I've ever had. I started this 9-months ago and pretty much straight away was bringing in at least $82.. per-hr. , Big44.comTAKE A LOOK

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Before the recession we had a national savings rate that was actually negative - as a nation people were collectively spending more than they earned via credit cards and cash-out refinancings.  Between a return to normal savings (now around 5%) and most people seeing losses in the value of their primary asset (homes) to what they were probably really worth before the bubble, it's going to take a while before the slack is taken out of the system and GDP improves in any meaningful way.

familyhurts
familyhurts

Any so called marcroeconomical indicator telling us we are in recession and our leaders are trying hard to find remedy for it, is yet another fallacy.

This profit-chasing trend needs to be controlled and stopped, especially if we consider that much of the mega-profits this system generates is virtual – it does NOT represent any produced tangible value – yet it is used by the owners of virtual capital for purchasing real tangible assets and resources. The relevance of the outcome of this trend can’t be overemphasised.

Meanwhile, some others dream their sweet dreams about an ideal free market that will eventually correct itself, not realising that by now we don’t even have a market. Even those mega-investors who destroyed the market admit this much.

Contrary to the free-market dreams, the remaining few players on the “market” do NOT need a large scope of sellers and buyers to establish a macroeconomical equilibrium between supply and demand. They can satisfy their own needs on a small micro-market without any competition whatsoever. Through their natural monopolies they can dictate the prices and wages – they can set the former as high and the latter as low as they wish. Since they own most of the planet’s assets, at the current level of technology this is a no-issue to them. Again, this fact can’t be emphasised enough. This is the prologue to a real Hunger Games.

raidx259
raidx259 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just because someone pays $109 million for a painting is hardly a reason for everyday people to say 'OMG the recession is over!'. Rich people live in a different world than the rest of us. What they do or don't do with their money shouldn't be used to justify how the rest of the world should be reacting to economic conditions.

The cost of everything continues to go up despite the fact that we are supposed to be in a period of no inflation. Countless numbers of people still unemployed. More are seeing wage increases frozen or taking pay cuts. Employers who are not laying off are trying not to fill vacant positions. The public has lost confidence that our leadership is representing the people of this country and not the special interest that help pay for their re elections. And you are going to tell me that someone shelling out $100 mil for a painting is a sign of hope ahead?

markb3699
markb3699

@raidx259 Agreed. This article basically is an argument for more freemarket indulgence.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Commodities like food and energy (oil/gasoline/utilities) are not included in CPI because it would result in too much volatility for the number to mean anything.  But since people can't live without food, shelter and transportation those are the expenses that matter most - and you're right that they've gone through the roof thanks to easy money.  Inflation won't show up in CPI until it's truly out of control.

familyhurts
familyhurts

An analysis by a leading scholar in political economy, David Harvey. According to his analysis the wealth of the super-rich indeed increased during the crisis. He forecasts a remaining 50 families by the end of global capitalism, and for the rest billions a struggle to survive. A Hunger Games scenario.

The End of Capitalism? – David Harvey (Penn Humanities Forum, 30 Nov 2011)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYzKsiev43Q

rutnerh
rutnerh

Recovery? For the stock market and the top 5% mainly from Bernanke's ongoing bailout follies for the financial system with the middle class not only losing retirement savings but also getting low or near zero interest rates...all from the follies of greed driven speculators in collusion with regulators.

hummingbird
hummingbird

The Great Recession will forever affect my spending habits even if I should win the lottery tomorrow. It taught me that a job/income is not guaranteed. It made me see how you can be highly qualified/educated and still be unemployed. It has made a penny pincher out of me for the rest of my life as you can have money today and lose it tomorrow.

Comed_Ian
Comed_Ian

While everyone is silently enjoying our happy prospect at being robbed without the dangers of anyone "pointing any fingers" anywhere, with the notable exception of the middle finger shown by the occasional sad little troll, I thought I would post here a link to a related article from a source that is different from - wait for it - familyhurts. Enjoy!

It Can Happen Here: The Confiscation Scheme Planned for US and UK Depositors by Ellen Brown 

http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/it-can-happen-here-the-confiscation-scheme-planned-for-us-and-uk-depositors-by-ellen-brown/

ptcruiser5850
ptcruiser5850

Is it OK to post a comment if you are not familyhurts?

familyhurts
familyhurts

@ptcruiser5850A nice trolling remark after a nice trolling article.

FYI: I had something to say - hence my comments, whereas apparently you merely had to say something - hence yours.

familyhurts
familyhurts

Part from my comment: The end of c(r)apitalism: to save for what future?

http://familyhurts.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/the-end-of-crapitalism-to-save-for-what-future/

Regarding the austerity measures:
It takes no more than passing Econ 101 to realise that austerity measures and cost savings only deepen any crisis, yet this is the policy that has been imposed on all economically globalised and anti-democratically federalised countries (EU). Most likely the politicians, financial experts and their media supporters are trained enough to be aware of this. Hence the long-standing enigma: why do they pretend – so amazingly consistently – to be oblivious?

In such context one can’t help remembering this post from Dandelion Salad:

The Treason of the Intellectuals by Chris Hedges

familyhurts
familyhurts

It is hard to find the proper words to praise this article enough for the amazing work to demonstrate how to alter one's consciousness to the level that almost feels real. Since I am not prepared to make that blissful major cognitive surgery just yet, I add this comment in order to encourage ourselves to occasionally keep in touch with reality as well.

Save for what future? - any individual who is minimally informed on what's going on, would duly ask. To save for the future when the banks, encouraged by the seemingly "successful" experiment in Cyprus, would rob ALL of our savings from our accounts?
No Sir, we are neither scared, nor prepared. And I bet, the author of this article isn't prepared either. Consider:

The end of capitalism 2/3: new feudalism via a global-scale foreclosure?
http://familyhurts.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/the-end-of-capitalism-2-3-new-feudalism-via-a-global-scale-foreclosure/

Furthermore, just like I wouldn't call the effects of this series of reverse bank-robbery "crisis" whereby individuals are freely robbed by banks, I wouldn't call identifying the causes "finger pointing" either. It is merely identifying the cause, which then would enable us to find the cure as well. Wouldn't you agree?

A realisable short-term alternative to the dreaded M-word
http://familyhurts.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/the-dreaded-m-word-a-ghost-theory-is-haunting-the-present-2/