Blowing Off the Personal Budget

Two thirds of Americans just don’t bother. Preparing a detailed written or computerized budget each month to track income and expenses, that is.

According to Gallup’s annual survey on the economy and personal finance, the people more likely to pin down expenses with a detailed budget have at least some college education, identify themselves as Republican or independents, and make at least $75,000 a year. Democrats slip to just over a quarter: only 26% describe themselves as keeping track of household expenses.

When it comes to getting advice that will help with finances, Americans are slightly more likely to say they use a computer or an online financial program (32%) to manage money than work with a certified financial planner (24%). According to the survey results, this is nearly a complete flip from a decade ago. In 2003, Gallup found 30% of survey respondents using a financial professional and 24% using an online program.

Given the growth of online banking and computer use in general, it makes sense that people would find online financial management a convenient way to manage finances, but the number has not increased dramatically from a decade ago. Those survey respondents who use a financial professional or computer or online program to keep track of finances have at least some college education and make at least $75,000 a year.

Those Americans who keep a detailed budget are a distinct minority, according to Dennis Jacobe, chief economist at Gallup. It is possible that the strain of the recession or the ability to check account balances frequently or get money at any time has muted the need to budget that people might feel. However, Jacobe said, good management of finances and the avoidance of financial difficulties usually involve creation of a family budget.

Results for Gallup’s poll were based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, between April 11 and 14.