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What Can Florida Teach the Nation About Personal Finances?



During the pandemic, while many of us have been stuck at home, pollsters have been busy. Among the questions they’ve been asking us: How are your finances faring? And what will you do about your debts after life returns to normal?

Many of those polls show Americans have cut back their spending because they fear running out of money. A new poll from Florida contains some good news that, if it’s repeated in other states, could signal better times ahead – even better than before the pandemic.

Conducted by researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Business & Economic Polling Initiative, the most intriguing result was this: Just over 36 percent of Floridians said they’re optimistic about the economic conditions in the U.S. for the next year. Half feel “more mindful of how they spend their money and are adopting new saving habits.”

What habits exactly? Forty-three percent shop for less-expensive products and 3 in 10 research those products before buying.

“With continued pressure on household income, consumers have had a change in shopping mindset since the COVD-19 pandemic started,” said Monica Escaleras, director of the poll. “People are focusing more on better value than brand loyalty, and it seems that this new behavior will continue even after the pandemic subsides.”

How Floridians stack up to the rest of the country

Only 10 percent of Floridians think it will take until 2022 or longer for their personal finances to return to normal. Everyone else? Pew Research Center found 44 percent of Americans expect to wait three years to see their finances improve.

It’s unclear if Floridians’ new saving habits equal more optimism in the economy. But it is clear more than half of Americans told Pew their financial situation is worse than last year. And the biggest complaints are new debts, loss of income, and fear of meeting retirement goals.

The cause of debt may be the scariest financial predicament Americans have faced this past year.

Most Americans can’t afford a financial emergency

A recent survey from personal finance site Bankrate revealed only 39 percent of Americans can afford a $1,000 emergency bill, including anything from a car repair to an ER visit.

To pay for that emergency, many felt the only option is to take on debt…

  • 18 percent would use a credit card
  • 12 percent need to borrow from a friend or family member
  • 8 percent have to take out a personal loan

The average credit card and personal loan interest rate can range anywhere from five to 36 percent.

It should come as no surprise, roughly 30 percent of Americans also told Pew they worry about their debt daily since the COVID-19 outbreak.

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A silver lining

The Florida poll is just one that shows the financial fallout from the pandemic as a reason for people to change their spending and saving habits.

A joint study from Her Money and showed – of Americans who lost income last year – 8 in 10 said they “now realize how important it is to save money for emergencies.”

Out of the respondents who lost money, the majority said they…

  • Now follow and stick to a budget
  • Are more willing to buy used cars and big-ticket items
  • Pay attention to interest rates on credit cards

Escaleras said Floridians’ new spending and savings habits seem like a “trend that is here to stay.”

One other financial expert sees this pandemic as a potential reason for people to reconsider their financial habits for good.

“I’ve spent the better part of my professional life convincing Americans to stop running up debts,” Jean Chatzky, CEO of HerMoney said. “That’s a hard argument to make when times are good. Maybe this will prove to be the silver lining from this awful time.”

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