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But we still can't let go of our bad financial habits.

The effects of the Great Recession have finally worn away, but the scars it left have not.

After years of postponing marriage, homeownership, and starting families, Americans are getting their lives back into gear. But our good financial habits haven’t made a comeback, says a poll from the American Institute of CPAs.

“As the economy continues to pick up steam and we put the recession further in the rearview mirror, it is important to be cautious and not forget the difficult financial lessons we learned,” says chairperson and CPA Greg Anton. “Taking on too much credit card debt to buy things your savings can’t cover, or making big purchases when you aren’t financially stable, are reckless moves in any economy.”

How the economy affects our spending

Americans tend to cut back on spending when the economy isn’t performing well. Unfortunately, some of the biggest price tags are on major life events: going to college, marriage, buying a home, and starting a family.

But now that the economy is the strongest it’s been since 2009 — when the recession ended — and unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 18 years, the amount of Americans unable to afford these milestones has gone down…

  • Going to college: 13 percent
  • Marriage: 6 percent
  • Buying a house: 14 percent
  • Having children: 7 percent

Three years ago, these figures were nearly double…

  • Going to college: 24 percent
  • Marriage: 12 percent
  • Buying a house: 22 percent
  • Having children: 13 percent

To get an idea of how much these milestones cost us, here is a breakdown of what Americans spend on each…

“When making a major life decision, don’t just focus on the immediate costs,” Anton says. “Consider the long-term financial implications as well. It is important to remember there is a natural ebb and flow to the economy that can have a significant negative impact on those who overextend their finances.”

From the looks of it, most Americans are focused on immediate costs, and aren’t saving and planning for the future. Now is the best time to do that.

Persistent bad habits, same excuses

Americans say the biggest reason they delay these life milestones is lack of savings. The second is the economy, which is no longer an acceptable excuse for many.

Sixty percent of Americans say they don’t have enough saved, which is consistent with survey results from 2015. Thirty-eight percent say the economy is the reason they can’t afford their major milestones, but that has gone down from 50 percent in 2015.

Aside from the amount of Americans concerned about the amount they have saved, these habits show more Americans haven’t learned lasting lessons from the Great Recession…

  • Follow a monthly budget: 39 percent
  • Saving: 36 percent
  • Charging less on credit cards: 30 percent
  • Have an emergency fund: 30 percent
  • Save for retirement: 28 percent

Three years ago, all these numbers were higher.

  • Follow a monthly budget: 58 percent
  • Saving: 44 percent
  • Charging less on credit cards: 50 percent
  • Have an emergency fund: 35 percent
  • Save for retirement: 32 percent

“America is in the middle of a strong economic period, but not too long ago many were caught off-guard by the recession,” Anton says. “With the economy stable for the time being, it is the perfect time to check in your financial plan to make sure that when you do come to the crossroads of a major life decision, you are not being held back by your bank account.”

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Joe Pye

Joe Pye

Associate editor

Pye is the associate editor of


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