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People value losing fat over pinching pennies in 2005

What's more important to you -- becoming physically fit or fixing your finances?

In a nationwide poll commissioned by Bankrate.com, getting in shape tipped the balance by a slim margin.

Pollsters asked: "In 2005, are you more focused on improving your physical fitness or your fiscal fitness? By fiscal fitness we mean improving your financial situation; for example, by paying off debts and increasing your savings."

Some 36 percent of respondents said they would focus more on physical fitness, and 31 percent said fiscal fitness.

That's almost a reversal of a similar survey taken two years ago, in which 29 percent of respondents said they would focus more on physical fitness during 2003 and 37 percent said they would concentrate more on fiscal fitness.

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In this survey and the one conducted two years ago, about one-quarter said they would focus equally on both fiscal and physical fitness. Eight percent said they won't focus on either in 2005. Maybe they're thin and rich, or they enjoy being fat and in debt. One percent of respondents just don't know which type of fitness deserves a higher priority.

The survey comes at a time when Americans are fatter and deeper in debt than ever before. Take weight -- please. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American is an inch taller and 25 pounds heavier than in 1960. The average American gained about 10 pounds in the 1990s, and even the airlines have noticed: The CDC says airlines spent an extra $275 million in fuel in 2000 to carry the weight of ever-heavier Americans.

Meanwhile, if you're typical, you're saving less than 1 percent of your income. In October, the personal savings rate was 0.2 percent, according to the Commerce Department. Consumers owed almost $2.1 trillion in consumer debt in October, according to the Federal Reserve. That's the most ever. Just in October, Americans charged up another $7.7 billion in net consumer debt. That's $26 for every man, woman and child in the United States in one month. It might not sound like a lot, but every dollar -- like every ounce -- adds up.

Families aren't the only ones going on a borrow-and-spend spree. The federal budget deficit is half a trillion dollars, and the Japanese and Chinese are buying bonds to finance our deficits so we can keep waddling into stores and plunking down credit cards to buy their stuff.

As Americans' waistlines expand and their credit card balances swell, it's tempting to say that 24 percent are on the right track. They're the ones who say they will focus equally on physical and fiscal fitness in 2005.

A gender gap was evident in the results, with women expressing more concern about weight than money, while men's concerns reflected the opposite. Some 38.8 percent of women said they would focus more on physical fitness in 2005, compared to 28.7 percent for fiscal fitness. Men stressed money more than weight by 34.1 percent to 32.5 percent.

The group that was most focused on getting their financial houses in order was composed of men and women earning somewhere in the $30,000s. More than 54 percent of these respondents said they would focus on fiscal fitness, and 27 percent said physical fitness.

How much flab do people want to shed? One-third of respondents said they don't plan to lose weight in 2005. The other two-thirds want to lose an average of 22.8 pounds. Men want to lose an average of 21.3 and women want to lose 23.9 pounds.

A shade under one-third of respondents -- 32.2 percent -- don't feel the need to pay off debt in 2005. The people who want to eliminate debt want to pay down an average of $11,288. The men were twice as debt-focused as the women: Men wanted to pay down an average $14,780 and women, $7,848.

The survey was commissioned by Bankrate.com and conducted by Roper, which interviewed a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults by phone in early December. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

-- Posted: Jan. 1, 2005
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See Also
Survey shows Americans are in debt denial
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Analyze your debt load
Financial advice glossary
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