Although 54 percent of adult Americans say they've not been able to save money over the last 12 months, a surprisingly large number have been able to save money in the past year in spite of the country's economic turmoil, according to a survey conducted for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants by Harris Interactive.
Forty-six percent of the survey respondents said they managed to save, and many said they did so by curtailing their spending. Most of their cutbacks were on discretionary items, such as dining out (50 percent), travel (46 percent), and clothing (35 percent), though 31 percent of the savers said they've curtailed home renovations. Much smaller numbers said they reduced outlays for medical expenses (16 percent) and higher education (12 percent).
The overwhelming majority of savers are optimistic about their future saving practices, saying they expect to save either as much (44 percent) or more than they are now (44 percent).
"Saving is an essential element of financial literacy," said Jordan Amin, CPA, chair of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. "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."
Interestingly, 60 percent of all Americans, whether they have been able to save or not, still regard saving as part of their lifestyle. In contrast, a third (33 percent) consider saving a "necessary burden," something they don't want to do, but feel they must.
"It's encouraging that such a large percentage of the population has been able to save," Amin continued. "It's even more gratifying that so many people, even those who haven't been able to save, see it as a lifestyle element. That has always been our position."
The findings come a month after the Department of Commerce reported consumer spending increased 0.3 percent in February over the previous month, the fifth consecutive monthly gain. The figure represents $34.7 billion, according to Commerce.
Of the 54 percent of Americans who have not been able to save, a plurality said their expenses surpassed their income (42 percent). Specific reasons among this group included financial emergencies, unemployment, a recent job loss, and credit card debt.
The majority of the survey respondents (54 percent) were employed. Among them, nearly two in three experienced some form of job-related financial reduction in the past 12 to 18 months. The two most frequently cited were delayed or eliminated wage increases (33 percent) and reduction or elimination of bonuses (32 percent). Others included additional working hours without a corresponding increase in income, cuts in health benefits, wage reductions, and elimination of 401(k) matches.
Formed in 2004 the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission oversees two programs to educate Americans about how to achieve and maintain financial well-being. One, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, guides Americans through financial issues associated with 10 life stages, from childhood through retirement. The dedicated Web site features hundreds of articles, tools and calculators to help them with financial decision-marking.
A second campaign, Feed the Pig, is for 25 – 34 year olds and encourages them to begin preparing for long-term financial security. The AICPA created Feed the Pig with the Advertising Council, whose research shows that people who have seen or heard a campaign public service announcement are more likely to make positive changes in their financial behavior.
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. The interviewing took place from March 17 to 21, 2010. The Harris Poll Quorum is a bi-monthly survey among 1,009 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.