Are Americans Doing Better Financially? Or Spending More Recklessly?

AICPA study highlights both positive and negative spending trends

401k, AICPA, milestones, debtMaking moves in light of—or in spite of—current finances.

Millennials may be delaying major milestones due to financial concerns, but apparently, that’s not the case for many Americans.

New research shows the number of adults spanning all generations who have postponed at least one big life decision for money reasons has fallen from 51 percent to 35 percent over the course of the last three years.

What’s better, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), “putting off specific life events for financial reasons has been nearly cut in half for a few areas.”

The study, conducted last month by The Harris Poll on behalf of the AICPA, found:

  • 6 percent of those surveyed delayed marriage last year, down from 12 percent in 2015
  • 7 percent of respondents postponed having children, versus 13 percent in 2015
  • 13 percent of people deferred enrollment in higher education, compared to 24 percent in 2015
  • 14 percent of those polled waited to buy a home, down from 22 percent in 2015
  • 10 percent of respondents put off retirement, versus 18 percent in 2015

At first glance, these figures could indicate positive improvements in the state of the economy and Americans’ individual finances. But further insight might instead suggest that spending above and beyond our means—regardless of financial hardship—just might be the new normal.

More people are pressing on with some of life’s most expensive endeavors, yet research shows fewer people are embracing beneficial financial habits. In fact, “the percent of Americans to report making at least one positive change to their financial behavior since the recession has declined (68 percent in 2018, compared to 85 percent in 2015),” according to the AICPA.

Among those surveyed:

  • 39 percent are following a monthly budget, whereas 58 percent were in 2015
  • 36 percent are starting or increasing their savings rate, compared to 44 percent in 2015
  • 30 percent are charging less to credit cards, versus 50 percent in 2015
  • 30 percent are starting/adding to an emergency fund, down from 35 percent in 2015
  • 28 percent are contributing to 401ks or other retirement accounts, compared to 32 percent in 2015

“As the economy continues to pick up steam and we put the recession further in the rearview mirror, it is important to be cautious and not forget the difficult financial lessons we learned,” Greg Anton, CPA, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a statement.

“When making a major life decision, don’t just focus on the immediate costs. Consider the long-term financial implications as well. Taking on too much credit card debt to buy things your savings can’t cover, or making big purchases when you aren’t financially stable, are reckless moves in any economy,” Anton concluded.

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