Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Saving Versus Spending: The Ultimate Conundrum

8/8/14 - In times of financial hardship, it is quite common for individuals to build a wall around their finances, to save rather than invest, and statistics show that consumers have been squirreling away any extra cash on hand, ever since the Great Recession first hit. With low interest rates on savings accounts and constant fluctuation of the stock market, it appears that, at this point in time, consumers have little choice but to pad their checking accounts rather than risk losing their savings. An article by E. Scott Reckard of the L.A. Times discusses the economic implications of this phenomenon of consumer saving as opposed to spending and investing.

Before the Great Recession hit, the average American was known for extravagant spending, for commonly over-drafting his/her checking account, and for holding very little savings in a “just in case” account. After we were hit hard by the economic downturn, it seems as if consumer saving has gone into overdrive, as if to compensate for their previous lax attitude toward their finances. While this new development in consumer saving is helping individuals to ride out the ups and downs of economic recovery, this situation does not bode well for continued economic stabilization.

According to Reckard, about two-thirds of economic recovery is represented by consumer spending. Thus, if consumers are saving rather than spending, the recovery is doomed to slow, maybe even halt altogether. With more individuals holding onto money rather than funneling it back into the economy, businesses have less capital on hand to hire new employees. While employment-to-active-searcher rates have improved markedly in past months, the so-called employment-to-population rates are still suffering, and these high rates of unemployment make people want to save even more, in fear that one day their employment might also be terminated.

Thus, while this new development is helping consumers to pay off debt and to learn to keep a “rainy day” fund, this cautious practice of high saving and low spending is not having such a great effect on the economy as a whole. However, as Reckard states, with inflation going down and income going up, it may just be a matter of time before consumers decide to invest once again. All in all, the main message is this: consumers have turned their manner of economic thinking on its head. While these sudden increases in responsible spending and lower rates of overdraft should be celebrated on the individual level, the economy now needs to find some other way to help its recovery.

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