Save, yes. Spend, no. Lessons we've learned from the recession

buy moreIf there's any good news in the recession, it's been that maybe -- just maybe -- people are learning enough lessons about spending habits that the next generation might be able to avoid some of the financial mistakes that have consumed the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. At least, that's my takeaway from MetLife's recent survey of 2,200 adults, where they asked Americans about their new financial habits. Here's what people had to say about the changes they've made:
  • Reduced spending on non-essential purchases: Two-thirds of those surveyed said that they've done or planned to do just that.
  • Built a cash cushion: 57% Americans intend to make sure that if another financial emergency hits, they aren't clobbered like last time.
  • Saved more--and put that savings into guaranteed income or very low-risk products: 17% of those surveyed said this
  • Consulted a financial adviser: 15%
  • Diversified their portfolio: 15%
Obviously MetLife hopes that you'll pay a lot of attention to those last points, since financial advice and products is kind of their thing. But it is kind of sad that only 15 to 17% of Americans seem to be thinking about their savings accounts.

Hopefully, more people will consult a financial adviser (although maybe I'm biased in that direction since my father is a financial adviser, although not for MetLife), and certainly one can understand the appeal of products like guaranteed annuities. Basically, that's like buying a pension--you purchase an annuity for, say, $200,000, and you're promised a monthly paycheck for the rest of your life, even if medicine progresses so that you live to be 135. Not that you have to buy an annuity to be low-risk. CDs, certificates of deposit, and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) are also increasingly popular investments.

There's also no arguing that whatever you put your money into, diversifying so that your money isn't just tied up in an IRA or 401(k) is a smart move. A lot of Americans, who saw their retirement packages crushed last fall and this year, are rethinking that strategy.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the numbers are so low when it comes to people thinking about getting a financial adviser or investing their money is likely that many people just don't have the money to save -- or they don't believe they have the money, suggests the MetLife survey.

The survey suggests that one in five Americans (19%) have put off saving for retirement completely, and that's especially acute in my own age group -- Generation X -- where one in four people aren't saving for retirement. It's even slightly worse among younger Baby Boomers (46 to 54 years of age), where 27% say that they don't have the funds to save for retirement.

It is encouraging, though, that more people seem to be aware of the need to save. When the money starts rolling into households again -- and let's be optimistic that it's when and not if -- it seems reasonable to hope that more people than in the past will start acting on the lessons we've all supposedly learned.

Geoff Williams is a frequent presence in WalletPop, mostly writing about banking and credit issues. He's also the co-author of the upcoming book, Living Well with Bad Credit.
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