Americans Weigh In on Financial Resolutions

NEW YORK , N.Y. – January 8, 2015 – As a new year begins, one hopes to be able to look ahead with confidence and optimism. Sometimes, however, it’s perhaps enough to at least reflect upon the future with a less pessimistic outlook than you did a year ago. That’s where American attitudes now stand. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of U.S. adults expect the economy to improve in the coming year, 50% expect it to stay the same, and 23% expect it to get worse; while the percent expecting it to improve is only marginally up from a year ago (when it was at 27%), the percentage expecting it to get worse has dropped sharply in that time, from 32% in December 2013 to 23% in December of 2014.

  • Consistent with last year, Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided on the coming year’s economic outlook, with Democrats far more likely to believe the economy will improve (42% vs. 17% of Republicans) while Republicans are more likely to say it will get worse (27% vs. 14% of Democrats).

Results are similar when assessing financial outlooks closer to home, with 22% thinking their household’s financial condition will be better in the next six months (up slightly from 20% in November of 2013), 56% believing it will remain the same, and 21% saying it will be worse – down from 30% saying the same just over a year ago. But with this eye toward stability, what are Americans putting on their financial to-do lists for the coming year?

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,255 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 10 and 15, 2014.

Fiscal resolve

U.S. adults were also asked about some of their financial plans for the year ahead, along with being questioned on what they may have planned on doing in 2014 – and whether or not they followed through on those items.

Reflecting on the year which just came to a close, Americans appear to have enjoyed a respectable follow-through ratio for 2014 financial plans. Among those who indicated having planned a series of financially responsible actions in 2014, the percentage saying they followed through on their intentions consistently outpaced those who say they did not. Some of the 2014 plans showing solid follow-through rates include:

  • Cut back on my household spending (43% planned and followed through vs. 15% planned but did not follow through)
  • Pay down my level of debt (37% and 15%, respectively)
  • Save more in the year ahead (35% and 24%, respectively)
  • Save more for retirement (26% and 16%, respectively)
  • Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home (21% and 9%, respectively), and
  • Get rid of one of my credit cards (15% and 9%, respectively).

Turning to 2015, nearly four in ten Americans anticipate cutting back on their household spending in the year ahead (38%), though it’s worth noting that fewer are forecasting such belt-tightening than a year ago, when 45% indicated the same.

Over a third each indicate they plan to save more in the year ahead (36%) and to pay down more debt (35%); these outlooks have also dropped in comparison to last year, when 40% of Americans were anticipating each of these measures.

Roughly two in ten (21%) plan on saving more for retirement (down slightly from 23% last year), 15% plan on getting rid of one or more credit cards (on par with last year’s findings) and 13% plan on undertaking home improvements that increase the value of their home (down slightly from 15% a year ago).

Looking back to the first year this question was asked, 2008 (at which point respondents were asked to evaluate their 2009 plans), Americans are considerably less likely now than they were at the time to say:

  • They plan to cut back on spending in the year ahead (down 17 percentage points)
  • To pay down their level of debt (down 10 points)
  • To get rid of one or more credit cards (down 9 points), and
  • To save more in the year ahead (down 6 points).

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TABLE 1a

EXPECTATIONS FOR THE ECONOMY IN THE COMING YEAR – TREND

In the coming year, do you expect the economy to…?

Base: All adults

2009

2010

April

May

Aug

Sept

Oct

May

June

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Improve

39

38

46

40

34

38

30

29

28

30

34

29

Stay the same

35

35

32

36

37

34

42

39

40

40

41

45

Get worse

26

27

22

24

29

28

28

32

32

30

25

26

2011

2012

2013

Feb

June

July

Sept

Oct

Dec

Feb

Dec

Feb

March

April

May

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Improve

34

26

23

21

20

23

36

33

32

30

29

32

Stay the same

42

41

41

45

46

47

40

31

40

37

41

42

Get worse

25

33

37

34

34

29

24

36

28

33

29

25

2013

2014

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

May

June

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Improve

32

29

27

22

22

25

27

26

26

24

26

22

25

22

26

27

28

Stay the same

41

44

42

46

37

44

42

44

43

45

48

51

46

49

45

51

50

Get worse

27

27

31

32

41

32

32

30

32

31

27

26

29

29

29

22

23

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 1b

EXPECTATIONS FOR THE ECONOMY IN THE COMING YEAR

By Generation, Gender & Political Party

In the coming year, do you expect the economy to…?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Gender

Political Party

Millennials

Gen. Xers

Baby Boomers

Matures

Male

Female

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Improve

28

31

25

26

29

31

24

17

42

24

Stay the same

50

52

53

47

46

47

52

54

44

51

Get worse

23

17

23

27

25

22

24

29

14

25

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 2

EXPECTATIONS FOR HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL CONDITION IN NEXT SIX MONTHS

Thinking about your household’s financial condition, do you expect it to be better or worse in the next 6 months?

Base: All adults

2013

2014

Feb

Mar

April

May

June

July

Sept

Oct

Nov

Jan

Feb

Mar

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

BETTER (NET)

23

21

22

26

24

24

19

18

20

23

22

21

24

23

23

24

22

21

22

22

Much better

3

3

4

5

4

5

4

3

4

4

4

4

5

4

6

6

4

3

4

4

Somewhat better

20

17

18

20

20

19

15

15

16

18

19

17

20

19

18

18

18

18

18

19

Will remain the same

50

49

49

50

53

49

52

48

50

49

52

52

52

54

51

51

53

53

57

56

WORSE (NET)

27

30

28

24

23

26

29

34

30

29

26

27

23

23

26

25

25

26

21

21

Somewhat worse

20

21

20

18

17

18

21

24

19

19

18

19

17

17

18

17

18

18

16

15

Much worse

7

9

8

6

6

9

8

11

11

10

8

8

7

7

8

8

7

8

5

6

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2

ACTIONS PLANNED/TAKEN THIS YEAR

And, thinking about the past year, please select the statement which best describes how you approached these in regards to your finances for 2013.

Base: All U.S. Adults

Planned on doing in 2014 and did follow through

Planned on doing in 2014 but did not follow through

Had no plans to do so / NA

2014

2014

2014

%

%

%

Cut back on my household spending

43

15

42

Pay down my level of debt

37

15

48

Save more in the year ahead

35

24

41

Save more for retirement

26

16

58

Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home

21

9

70

Get rid of one or more of my credit cards

15

9

76

Invest in less risky investments

8

4

88

Refinance my mortgage

4

4

92

Take out a home equity line of credit

4

2

94

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 3a

2015 FINANCIAL EXPECTATIONS – vs. Previous Years

Which of the following do you expect to do in 2015 in regards to your finances?

Base: All U.S. adults

2008

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cut back on my household spending

55

49

45

45

45

38

Save more in the year ahead

42

40

36

37

40

36

Pay down my level of debt

45

41

39

40

40

35

Save more for retirement

21

22

16

20

23

21

Get rid of one or more credit cards

24

22

16

17

15

15

Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home

14

13

11

14

15

13

Invest in less risky investments

9

8

5

8

5

6

Refinance my mortgage

5

6

5

5

4

4

Take out a home equity line of credit

2

2

1

1

2

2

Other

6

6

5

5

6

6

I don’t expect to do anything different financially in 2015

16

18

23

23

20

24

Note: Multiple response question; In 2008 this question asked about financial activity for 2009, in 2010 it was asked about 2011, in 2011 it was asked about 2012, in 2012 it was asked about 2013, in 2013 It was asked about 2014, and in 2014 it was asked about 2015.

 

TABLE 3b

2014 FINANCIAL EXPECTATIONS – By Generation & Children in HH

Which of the following do you expect to do in 2015 in regards to your finances?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Children in HH

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen X

(38-49)

Baby Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cut back on my household spending

38

39

36

40

33

42

37

Save more in the year ahead

36

51

32

30

20

41

35

Pay down my level of debt

35

38

42

33

22

42

33

Save more for retirement

21

26

21

20

5

25

19

Get rid of one or more credit cards

15

16

12

15

15

19

13

Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home

13

11

10

18

13

12

14

Invest in less risky investments

6

9

2

5

4

7

5

Refinance my mortgage

4

5

3

4

2

8

2

Take out a home equity line of credit

2

4

1

1

1

4

2

Other

6

8

5

6

1

6

6

I don’t expect to do anything different financially in 2015

24

18

26

24

40

19

27

Note: Multiple response question; In 2008 this question asked about financial activity for 2009, in 2010 it was asked about 2011, in 2011 it was asked about 2012, in 2012 it was asked about 2013, in 2013 It was asked about 2014, and in 2014 it was asked about 2015.


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 10 and 15, 2014 among 2,255 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #3, January 8, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll