Financial Security Index
Financial Security Index
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Economic woes cause spending cutbacks

September 2011 Financial Security Index » Overview

Families across the country find themselves coping with spending cutbacks as the economy flirts with a second possible recession.

A new survey from Bankrate.com reveals that 40 percent of Americans say recent stock market volatility and economic uncertainty have caused them to button up their wallets and reduce expenses.

Financial Security Index

Bad news bears

It's not hard to see why. The summer delivered a succession of dour economic news that even the famously spendthrift American consumer couldn't ignore.

First, of course, there was political gridlock in Washington, D.C., over the debt ceiling, culminating in a U.S. credit downgrade by the rating agency Standard & Poor's. Then, we learned the economy inched along at an annual rate of just 1 percent in the second quarter of 2011, a much slower pace than had been previously believed. In August, hiring came to a standstill with zero net jobs added to the American economy.

And then there's the stock market. As July came to a close, the stock market became increasingly volatile. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 15.8 percent through the first week of August. The index then recouped some of its losses, finishing the month down 4.3 percent, only to plummet again in the first weeks of September, unnerving investors.

The bad news wasn't confined to the U.S., of course. Across the pond, the sovereign debt crises in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain have only worsened with time, and they're not going away.

Taken altogether, the negative news was enough to make many people think twice before forking over hard-earned money for anything beyond necessities.

A matter of perspective

Not everyone reacts to uncertainty by instituting cutbacks; 58 percent of respondents have not changed their behavior. The sense of fear some people experience when the economy turns topsy-turvy may be a matter of perspective.

"Typically, a person's reaction is very tied to their attitude toward money and investing," says Susan Hirshman, president of She Ltd. and author of "Does This Make my Assets Look Fat?" "Those who think of money as a means to avoid poverty tend to have stronger reactions than those who view investing as a source of gain. Not surprising, women tend to fall more in the poverty camp and men in the source of gain."

Women were much more likely to say they have tightened their purse strings at 45 percent, versus 34 percent of men who have cut back on spending in response to economic uncertainty.

Though shifts and downturns in the broad economy can pose real dangers to individuals in the form of less stable employment and rising inflation, violent shifts in the stock market don't necessarily correspond to the health of the economy.

For most working people, movements in the stock market will not impact their day-to-day spending.

That changes as workers move closer to retirement. Retirees feel stock market fluctuations more acutely as drops in the stock market represent decreases in resources for future spending.

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