Survey finds Americans more frugal these days, but still content

Despite recent years of inflation, recession, and layoffs, Americans are generally optimistic about their financial situations. This is one of the more surprising findings of a survey called ''Americans and Their Money,'' which was conducted by Lieberman Research Inc. for Money magazine. The survey was based on a representative sample of 2,553 men and women from all walks of life. In each case the respondent was the main decisionmaker on how the family's money was to be spent, saved, or invested.

According to Dr. Seymour Lieberman, president of the research firm, 56 percent of those polled said they were satisfied with things as they are. This shows, he says, that ''our system works, and that people have proven their flexibility and have been able to cope with many of their financial challenges.''

Many people, he says, have balanced their budgets with financial trade-offs. As food, clothing, travel, insurance, transportation costs, and medical and dental bills have gone up, most middle- and low-income Americans have simply cut back on entertaining at home, household help, vacations, and outside entertainment, including theater, concerts, ballet, movies, and sporting events.

Half of those surveyed feel they are much better off than their parents, but only one-fourth of them think their children will be as well off as they are.

Some 62 percent think their financial situation will be comfortable in retirement years. Those who worry about retirement years are those with incomes of $15,000 or below, who will only have social security benefits. Part-time jobs would be the only solution, they said.

A surprising finding, according to Dr. Lieberman, is that while many older workers feel sanguine about their present and future financial situations, many young people, particularly in the 18-to-34 age group, feel concern about the future.

Yet another surprising finding was the desire to retire before 65 years of age, which Dr. Lieberman found widespread in all demographic segments. Many even wished to retire before age 60, particularly young people and blue-collar workers. This change, he suggests, springs from a changing work ethic and the fact that people are discovering many other things they want to do in life besides working at a job.

One of the more alarming findings, according to Marshall Loeb, managing editor of Money magazine, is that only 42 percent of Americans have made out their wills. Another negative finding is that half of all Americans report having less than $5,000 in savings and investments. And one-quarter did not save nor invest any of their income in the past year.

Of dual-income households, 41 percent have household incomes of $35,000 or more. Yet dual-income people put less away in savings and investments than single-income families, generally because they have more mouths to feed. Also, surprisingly, college-educated people do not have much more in the way of liquid assets than those without college degrees.

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