Americans Would Rather Text than Eat

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When the financial going gets tough, Americans would rather change their eating habits than give up text messaging, cable TV, or Internet downloads. That’s the finding of a survey conducted on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs, which asked more than 1,000 respondents to name the one action they would take in tough financial times.

Some 41% said they would cut back on dining out, while 20% said they would shut off their cable TV. Only 8% said they would give up their cell phone service, the same number who said they would abstain from downloading songs and other digital products.

But on the big things, Americans are pretty responsible:

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.

The price of gasoline has replaced retirement as the top financial concern among Americans. Other findings from the survey:

  • 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.

The survey results lead to a couple of observations. First, the increasingly central role of staying connected to the world and to friends — social life is becoming more virtual and less real-world based. Second, most Americans have seen no improvement in their financial situations over the past year. The ability to stay connected is relatively cheap, thus offering plenty of value for the consumer’s dollars even when money may be in short supply.

Paul Ausick