Save or spend? Consumers are making a slow comeback – one that may threaten their retirement security.
Save or spend? That’s the question facing increasingly confident American consumers in a slowly improving economy. According to data released today by the Commerce Department, consumers are leaning toward spending.
Spending rose at a faster rate than disposable income for U.S. households in January, according to today’s data, which also shows a corresponding drop in savings rates. Disposable income inched up 0.1 percent, while spending rose 0.2 percent and savings rates declined by 0.1 percent, from 4.7 in December to 4.6 in January.
The increased spending – mainly on automobiles and parts – takes place as Americans are in the midst of digging themselves out of high levels of debt accumulated during the boom years leading up to the housing crisis. American consumers steadily increased their debt levels over the past 60 years, but the trend accelerated after 2000, according to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, which predicts household debt as percent of disposable income will return to historic levels in the mid-2013.
Halfway through this “deleveraging process,” savings and debt remain top financial concerns, according to 1,150 investors surveyed in February by Millionaire Corner. Less affluent investors are primarily concerned with paying down debt, while those with $100,000 or more worry most about having enough money to last their retirement.
Investors with less than $100,000 rank “reducing my personal debt” as their biggest financial worry, though they also express a high level of concern about job security, savings rates and retirement. Spend or save? For less affluent investors, spending conflicts with the need to save and reduce debt.
More than one-fourth says personal debt is their most significant concern, while more than 18 percent say they worry most about job security for themselves or their spouse. More than 16 percent say they are most concerned about having enough money to be able to save for the future. An equal percentage worries most about saving for retirement.
Millionaires express low levels of concern about their debt levels and ability to set aside money for the future, but the decision to spend or save is colored by their worries about saving enough for retirement, medical expenses and inflation. Nearly 30 percent of millionaires rank retirement savings as their top financial concern, while an equal share say health care costs are their most significant financial concern. More than one-fourth of millionaires identify inflation as their greatest worry.
Inflation is the top concern of retirees, who also worry a great deal about their financial security and health care costs, according to our survey, which indicates that, regardless of age or wealth level, the choice to spend or save is heavily influenced by the fear of running out of money in retirement.