Consumer Nation

More Americans To Put Spending on a Diet Next Year

Making a New Year's resolution this year?

If you are, there's a good chance that this year's pledge will be focused on improving your finances. According to several recent surveys, consumers continue to be more cautious about their money and are looking to continue to get their financial houses in order next year.

Fidelity Investments recently asked 1,000 American adults about whether they consider New Year's resolutions regarding their finances, and found that usually about one-third tend to do this in a typical year. However, this year, about 43 percent of those surveyed plan to consider financial resolutions. That's a jump of 23 percent.

The number is particularly high among those 35 to 44 years old. More than half, some 55 percent, of this group are setting financial goals for the New Year.

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That's good news, according to Ken Hevert, vice president, Fidelity Investments. This age group tends to be managing multiple financial goals such as saving for retirement and a child's education, while paying down mortgages, and can likely benefit from taking a hard look at their money.

"What we have heard from younger investors is an emerging desire to be more self-reliant," Hevert said. "This particular set of savers expects their retirement to be all on their shoulders."

Hevert said he sees these attitudes at a turning point. After the tough economic times that everyone has been through, consumers are acknowledging that they are ready to be more specific about setting their goals and being committed to them.

Market researcher Mintel Comperemedia has been seeing similar trends.

"Our recent consumer surveys point to a changed mindset for consumers," said Susan Menke, a behavioral economist for Mintel. "The recession left people feeling shaken and vulnerable, wary of previous years' spending binges and craving a more conservative approach to money. We expect that thrifty, save-for-a-rainy day mentality to continue next year."

Mintel also saw this trend more pronounced among adults under 45, and has speculated that this is because it is the first major recession experienced by these individuals.

When the firm asked about whether consumers wanted to learn more about investing money, about 57 percent of the 18-to-24 year olds said yes, compared with 49 percent of all age groups.

Saving more and spending less was the theme of the resolutions Americans are planning to make at the start of the year. More than half of those polled by Fidelity said saving was their primary focus, followed by spending less money (30 percent) and making or sticking to a budget (14 percent).

Principal Financial Group also asked Americans about their New Year's resolutions. They found less than one-third of working adults don't plan on making any resolutions, and the top two resolutions they were making were paying off credit card debt (33 percent) and putting a set amount into savings each month (32 percent).

According to Principal's research, the trend has been relatively steady in recent years, with between 28 percent and 31 percent of workers not making resolutions, said Principal spokesman Luke Vandermillen.

However, the consumers they have talked to in their research are showing that they are taking more responsibility for their finances. He says people are in a "rebuilding" mode.

Still, as with other New Year's resolutions, making promises and sticking with them are two different things.

About 30 percent of those polled by Fidelity said it was harder to keep a financial resolution than other popular resolutions. However, 60 percent said they had stuck with their past financial resolutions, compared with the 51 percent of consumers who claimed they had stuck with their non-financial resolutions.

Of course, a little incentive never hurt, and it seems the financial crisis and recession have provided that in abundance. The vast majority — some 88 percent — of those who tried and failed to keep their past financial resolutions expect that the downturn has strengthened their resolve for keeping their financial promises in 2010.

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