Americans Likely to Keep Cell Phones, Protect Retirement in Financial Pinch

Steven Bobson, Europe & Americas Editor
April 11, 2012 /

To contend with a financial crunch, Americans would rather change what they eat than give up their cell phones, downloads or digital TV services, according to a new survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs by Harris Interactive for National Financial Literacy Month.

In the national telephone poll, 1,005 adults were asked to select the one action they would most likely take in a financial pinch. Forty-one percent of adults would cut back on eating out, making it the most popular action. Twenty percent said they would cut off cable TV, 8 percent said they would end cell phone service and another 8 percent said they would stop downloading songs and digital products.

Only a small number would take actions that could hurt their long-term financial well-being, with 2 percent saying they would stop contributions to retirement accounts, 1 percent choosing to skip utility payments and 1 percent putting off rent or mortgage payments.

“Financial success depends on setting clear goals and priorities and sticking with them in good times and bad,” said Jordan Amin, chair of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.

“While it’s clear that Americans’ priorities are changing, these results suggest that in tight times they won’t jeopardize tomorrow to deal with the financial challenges.”

The results come as 94 percent of American adults said they have financial concerns of one sort or another. Four in 10 adults, 41 percent, identified basic living expenses—including the cost of gas, uninsured medical expenses and lack of emergency savings—as their top financial concern. A quarter, 27 percent, said their main concerns are related to long-term goals, such as paying for education and saving for retirement. Worries about jobs, homes and caring for aging parents rounded out the list.

“For the first time in three years gas prices—not retirement—is the top financial concern in America,” Amin said.

“Every time we fill up we’re reminded that the cost of living is higher. Budgeting is key to ensure that we make it through these challenges and focus on long-term goals.”

The CPA profession has a comprehensive financial literacy program—360 Degrees of Financial Literacy—to help Americans achieve long-term financial success. A robust Web site ( is the centerpiece of the program with tools, calculators and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs during 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement.

Since 2007, the AICPA has conducted an annual survey of Americans to determine their top financial concerns and assess their financial well-being.

In 2011, Americans were almost twice as likely to say they were “worse off,” 29 percent, than “better off,” 16 percent, compared to the year prior. Today, they are as likely to say they are better off, 24 percent, as worse off, 23 percent.

Just more than half of Americans, 53 percent, report that they are in the same financial position as they were the prior year.

More than a third of adults aged 18-44, 35 percent, say their financial situation has improved over the past year, compared with fewer than 2 in 10 older adults, 13 percent.

Almost a third of college graduates, 31 percent, are better off today, compared with just a fifth, 22 percent, of those who have not completed college.

Harris Interactive conducted the telephone survey on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs within the United States between March 8 and March 11, reaching a nationally representative sample of 1,005 adults aged 18 and older by landline and mobile phone.


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