Saving More Beats Losing Weight as New Year's Goal

Could Americans have learned their lesson about saving versus spending?

A new survey by Putnam Investments found that Americans are focused more on their financial health than on their physical health, with “saving more” the number one New Year’s resolution for 2010, cited by 36%, according to a press release. Old standbys such as “exercise more” (34%) and “lose weight” (34%) trail behind.

One-fifth (18%) of respondents indicated they definitely plan to save more in 2010; another 30% hope to do so; and a further 30% “hope to, but are not sure it will be possible.” More than one-quarter (28%) of those polled specifically said they will try to save more for their retirement in 2010. Smaller numbers intend to make additional payments to reduce their mortgages (14%) and regularly review their 401(k) plans and other investments (13%).

Underscoring concern about debt, one-third of respondents (33%) said they would pay down personal debt if they received cash for a holiday gift this year. Seventeen percent said they would use the cash to pay for daily living expenses, and 13% said they would save it in an “emergency” fund.

Less Presents under Tree

Americans surveyed also reported plans to spend less during this holiday season.  Four in 10 (42%) said they have established an overall spending limit; 36% said they will pay for gifts only with cash; and 33% indicated they will limit the number of people for whom they will buy gifts. In addition, 30% plan to limit spending on holiday entertainment, and 18% said they will enter into a “no gift exchange” agreement with people with whom they have exchanged gifts in the past.

Men expect to be less restrained in their holiday spending than women, with just 26% of men but 40% of women saying they will limit the number of people for whom they will buy gifts. Men are also less likely to say they will avoid the use of credit cards, limit spending on holiday entertainment, or enter into “no gift exchange” agreements.

Survey respondents were optimistic about their personal situations, with more than half (52%) saying they were more hopeful about their own financial health going into 2010 than they were a year ago. However, regarding the country’s overall financial picture, 57% expect that consumers will still spend less next year than they did this year, and only 40% expect that the U.S. economy will be “much healthier” in 2010.

The online survey of 1,000 American adults was conducted by Insight Express for Putnam Investments in November.