Americans weigh in on their financial plans for the new year

NEW YORK — As one year draws to a close and another begins anew, it’s time for Americans to plan out the year to come.

What financial resolutions might they be making? And what sort of economic changes do they expect 2014 to bring for the nation as a whole? A recent Harris Poll finds the pessimistic outlook that the economy will get worse (32 percent) slightly overshadowing the belief that it will improve (27 percent), though the most prevalent opinion is that the economy will stay the same (42 percent).

Results

These are some of the results of The Harris PollĀ® of 2,311 U.S. adults surveyed online between Dec. 11 and 17 by Harris Interactive.

It is noteworthy that Americans are more likely than last year to believe the economy will stay the same (up 11 percentage points from December 2012), while drops are apparent both for the belief that the economy will improve (down 6 points) and that it will get worse (down 4 points).

Americans show deep divisions on this issue by political party, with Democrats nearly four times as likely as Republicans to believe that the economy will improve (46 percent Democrats, 12 percent Republicans) and the inverse true for the perception that it will get worse (47 percent Republicans, 13 percent Democrats).

Both parties, as well as Independents, are equally likely to ascribe to the belief that it will stay the same (41 percent each).

Reflecting, planning

Americans were asked about their financial plans for the year ahead, as well as what they planned on doing in 2013 — and whether or not they followed through on such plans. Americans report a solid follow-through ratio for 2013 financial plans.

Among those who indicated they had planned on taking a series of financially “responsible” actions in 2013, those who did follow through on such plans consistently outpaced those who did not. 2013 plans showing the best follow-through rates include:

  • Cut back on my household spending (49 percent planned and followed through vs. 15 percent planned but did not),
  • Pay down my level of debt (41 percent and 15 percent, respectively),
  • Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home (22 percent and 10 percent, respectively) and
  • Get rid of one of my credit cards (19 percent and 8 percent, respectively).
  • Turning to the year ahead, nearly half of Americans (45 percent) say they expect to cut back on household spending in 2014, while four in 10 each plan on paying down their level of debt and saving more (40 percent each).

Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) plan on saving more for retirement and 15 percent each plan on getting rid of one or more credit cards and undertaking home improvements that increase the value of their home.

Financial plans for the coming year are similar to those seen a year ago, though there has been slight growth in planned saving, with stated intentions to save more in general and save more for retirement both up three percentage points. Looking further back, Americans are considerably less likely than five years ago (the first year this question was asked) to say they plan to cut back on spending in the year ahead (down 10 points) and to get rid of one or more credit cards (down 9 percentage points).

Renewed dedication?

Americans who tried and failed to make financial changes in 2013 appear to be doubling down, so to speak, with those who intended a change in 2013 but didn’t follow through consistently more likely than the general population to say they expect to make such a change in 2014.

Top examples include:

  • Cut back on my household spending (45 percent of Americans plan on doing so overall; 61 percent of those who intended to do so in 2013 but didn’t follow through intend to do so),
  • Pay down my level of debt (40 percent and 68 percent, respectively),
  • Save more in the year ahead (40 percent, and 51 percent, respectively),
  • Save more for retirement (23 percent and 36 percent, respectively),
  • Get rid of one or more credit cards (15 percent and 53 percent, respectively) and
  • Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home (15 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

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