by Broderick Perkins
(1/12/2012) Erate Exclusive - Feeling pinched? You aren't alone.
And things may not get better unless you do more to contribute to your own household's economic recovery.
Fewer than two in five Americans say they will make positive financial changes this year, including paying down debt (39 percent) or saving more money (36 percent), according to a Harris Interactive poll of 2,237 adults surveyed in early December 2011.
Saving and paying off debt is one way to recover from hard times and most consumers expect hard times to stick around for another year.
Only 23 percent of U.S. adults say they expect the economy to improve in the year ahead, down from 29 percent a year ago. Instead, 29 percent say they expect the economy to sink deeper, while 47 percent say the economy is stuck in the doldrums where it will remain this year.
Yet even as consumers continue to lack confidence in economic growth, a growing number of consumers seem to think they can spend away the blues.
Fewer U.S. adults said that they will cut back their household spending in 2012 -- 45 percent, compared to 49 percent last year and 55 percent the previous year.
Harris reports, while that might not bode well for the spenders, it could be positive news for those working in the retail, dining and entertainment industries.
The survey suggests consumers are mirroring some of the same economic mistakes that plunged the nation into a recession.
• Fewer Americans plan to pay down their level of debt in 2012 than in the past two years -- 39 percent now compared to between 41 percent and 45 percent in previous years.
• Only 36 percent say they will save more in the year ahead, compared to 40 percent last year and 42 percent in 2009.
• One in six (16 percent) now say both that they will get rid of one or more credit cards and save more for retirement in 2012. Larger numbers (between 21 percent and 24 percent) expected to do both of those items in previous years.
• Only one in ten (11 percent) now expect to undertake home improvements to increase the value of their home, also down from 2010 and 2011, but not surprisingly so.
• Only 5 percent said they will make less risky investments or take out a home equity line of credit (2 percent) in 2012.
• Finally, 23 percent of Americans say they don't expect to do anything differently financially in 2012.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests many Americans aren't taking the right approach to their financial conditions.
"The process starts with a person resolving to take charge of his or her financial future. After that, it's a matter of executing the plan," says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (NFCC).
She offers the three A's of financial wellness.
• Action - Don't stick your head in the sand. Failure to act will make matters worse. You can't spend you way out of trouble. Get some counseling from a certified agency, review your situation, seek solutions and set goals.
• Automate - Use technology for direct deposit and automate bill paying and online banking to avoid late fees and keep better track of your income, spending and, most importantly, savings.
• Accountability - Be honest with yourself and about your financial situation rather than justifying it. Find someone with which you can air your dirty financial laundry, someone strong enough to tell you the truth about your bad financial behavior.
"Know that small steps can equal big rewards," Cunningham said.