Economic Expectations Influence Financial "Resolutions"

Though pluralities show status quo expectations for the U.S. economy, the percentage expecting it to get worse is on the rise

Jan 14, 2016, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Jan. 14, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- With 2015 in the history books, many Americans take stock of their decisions in the year gone by and evaluate what they might change in the year ahead. Of course, when it comes to personal finance decisions, those choices don't take place in a vacuum; expectations of which direction the economy will head can greatly impact financial plans for the year ahead.

Case in point: those who expect the U.S. economy to get worse in the year ahead are much more likely than those expecting an upswing to say they'll cut back on spending in the new year (51% vs. 29%). On the other hand, those expecting the economy to improve are more likely to anticipate saving more in the year ahead (50%, vs. 33% of those expecting the economy to get worse).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,255 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 9 and 14, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

One's expectations on the home front show an even greater influence over plans for the year ahead. Those who expect their household financial condition to get better in the next six months are more likely to have a number of fiscal goals in mind, including:

  • Saving more in the year ahead (57% among those expecting their household financial condition to get better vs.36% of those expecting  it to remain the same and 30% of those expecting it to get worse),
  • Paying down my level of debt (50% vs. 35% and 34%),
  • Saving more for retirement (30% vs. 21% and 12%), and
  • Undertaking home improvements that increase the value of my home (25% vs. 16% and 11%).

Great…ly similar expectations
Taking a step back, what are Americans expecting when they look in their fiscal crystal balls?

  • Forty-four percent (44%) of Americans expect the U.S. economy to stay the same in the coming year, with a third (32%) expecting it to get worse and a quarter (24%) expecting it to improve.
    • Though the largest percentage aren't expecting things to change, it's worth noting that the percentage expecting it to get worse has grown considerably year-over-year (from 23% in Dec 2014 to 32% in Dec 2015).
    • Those in the East (29%) and West (28%) are especially likely to expect improvement (vs. 17% in the Midwest and 21% in the South), while the Midwest (35%) and the South (37%) are the most pessimistic regions, with the highest percentages expecting things to get worse (vs. 27% each in the East and West).
  • Back home, roughly half of Americans (49%) expect their household's financial condition will remain the same in the next six months, while roughly a quarter each expect it to get better (26%) or worse (24%).

Fiscal resolve
U.S. adults were asked both their financial plans for the year ahead and what they may have planned on doing in 2015 – along with whether or not they followed through on those items.

Reflecting on 2015, many Americans followed through on their financial goals. Among those who indicated having planned a series of financially "responsible" actions in 2015, those who followed through on their intentions generally outpace those who didn't. Some of the 2015 plans showing especially solid follow-through rates include:

  • "Cut back on my household spending" (44% planned and followed through vs. 20% planned but did not follow through),
  • "Pay down my level of debt" (37% vs. 21%), and
  • "Undertake home improvements that increase the value of my home" (21% vs. 12%).

Turning to 2016:

  • Four in ten Americans (41%) anticipate cutting back on their household spending in the year ahead (up slightly from 38% last year), saving more in the year ahead (40%, up from 36%), and paying down their level of debt (39%, up from 35%).
  • Roughly two in ten plan on saving more for retirement (21%, identical to last year), undertaking home improvements that increase the value of their home (17%, up from 13%), and getting rid of one or more credit cards (17%, up marginally from 15% last year).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 9 and 14, 2015 among 2,252 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 14, 2016
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll® 
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SOURCE The Harris Poll