When Money Gets in the Way of Major Life Decisions

Couple meeting adviser for property purchase
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By Emma Miller

For many of us, tomorrow's to-do list is getting longer. A survey from the American Institute of CPAs finds that 51 percent of Americans have delayed a significant decision because of financial anxiety -- a huge uptick from the pre-recession stat of 31 percent in 2007.

Of these delayed milestones, higher education was most frequently postponed, with 24 percent of people putting off college due to financial concerns.

Another 22 percent held off buying a home in the past year, while 19 percent decided to forgo an expensive medical procedure and 18 percent deferred their retirement plans. Even family life was affected, with 12 percent making the decision not to move ahead with marriage plans.

Lack of savings is the primary culprit (cited by 60 percent of respondents), followed by concerns about the U.S. economy, difficulty paying bills, a need to care for parents or other relatives, and concerns about paying down credit card debt.

Ernie Almonte, the chair of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, believes the recession also taught hard lessons.

"When you peel the onion back, you start to see that what they have experienced -- their parents, friends losing their homes or jobs, or people in so much debt they file for bankruptcy -- stuck with them," he tells MarketWatch. "People are looking at things now and saying 'I don't have enough savings for that' or 'I will put it off for a year or two until I'm financially stable.' "

This increased caution may still pay off in the long term: the vast majority (85 percent) of respondents reported having made positive changes to their financial behavior since the recession, such as following a monthly budget, increasing savings rate and adding to an emergency fund.

And despite 13 percent of respondents delaying having kids, U.S. birth rates are up slightly for the first time in seven years -- suggesting a rosier economic outlook.

If money worries are keeping you up at night, check some of the most common financial fears -- and learn to banish them.
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