Just in case you were starting to feel a bit better about the economy, along comes a new study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which found that the consumer recovery isn't as far along as some think.
According to the agency, which surveyed more than 2,000 people in the month of March, 51 percent of consumers are still spending less than they did last year, while only 18 percent have increased their spending.
Perhaps even more telling, 49 percent of consumers said they would continue to spend less than they did in 2009, even if their financial situation were to improve within the next year.
Twenty-seven percent said they would spend a comparable amount if their financials improved—which leaves only 21 percent who would spend more.
Though on its surface the news doesn't appear to bode well for the majority of retailers, whose stocks have surged as of late, it may bring a silver lining for discounters such as Dollar General and TJX's TJMaxx.
Some analysts had begun to question the long-term viability of such low-priced chains, as consumers would presumably begin to trade up as a recovery took hold.
With unemployment remaining high, the report also showed that savings continue to be an issue for many consumers. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they are saving the same amount as they did last year, while 36 percent are putting less of their paychecks toward the future.
Notably, 30 percent of respondents said they have no additional savings outside of their retirement funds, while one-third of adults—which would equal about 75 million people—do not even put any of their annual household income toward retirement, according to NFCC.
"Although the survey did show some improvements in consumer behavior as it relates to personal finance, there are still serious deficiencies which impact consumers' ability to properly manage their money, particularly during an economic crisis," said NFCC spokesperson Gail Cunningham.
Separately, Bank of America on Tuesday released the results of its quarterly Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights survey. The study showed that affluent consumers—categorized as having $250,000 in investable assets—are slightly less worried than they were during the last quarter, but retirement continues to be their biggest concern.
BofA's President of Global Wealth and Investment Management Sallie Krawcheck told CNBC that she attributed the lack in confidence to both the economic downturn and political uncertainty, especially regarding taxes. See the full interview above.
She also pointed to the fact that two-thirds of investors say they are acting more conservatively than before the recession, and said that the younger generation—which is typically more risk-tolerant than its parents—is now more risk-averse.
This could hinder the generation's ability to build a high enough net worth to retire comfortably, Krawcheck said.
"[It] is something we're spending a lot of time thinking about," she said.
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