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Are consumers starting to accept the "new normal"?

Consumers may be coming to accept the “new normal” of slower economic growth and more uncertainty, according to a Bankrate report released Monday.

The Financial Security Index found most consumers seeing no change in their net worth and overall financial situation from a year ago. The impact can be seen in their holiday shopping where 83 percent of those surveyed stayed within their budget for a time of year when people usually spend more than they expected.

This financial prudence was fairly universal: no age group collectively or measured by income bracket spent more than they expected to. While 14 percent of Americans overall went over budget on holiday gifts, only in the highest-income group (those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more), did more people spend more rather than less this holiday season. 

First holiday shopping report shows disappointing sales
 “The U.S. economy has definitely carried some momentum into 2014, but it’s still a slow-growth economy with high unemployment and stagnant household income,” financial analyst Greg McBride said in a statement. “Consider that the economy has hit a rough patch each year of the recovery, usually in the first half of the year, and has underperformed the Fed’s estimates year-in and year-out. I expect similar results in 2014.”

Most Americans say little has changed in their economic prospects in the past 12 months. According to the report 50 percent say their overall financial situation is about the same as it was a year ago, with 30 percent saying it has improved and 19 percent saying they are worse off.

Not surprisingly, the more money people made, the more optimistic they were. Among those who earned $75,000 or more, 45 percent said they felt better about their financial situation, compared with 19 percent for those who earned $30,000 or less. Lower wage earners were more likely to feel worse today. Among those who earned $30,000 or less, 26 percent said they felt worse, compared with 10 percent for the highest wage earners. People 65 and older were more likely than any other age group to say their financial situation is worse today than it was a year ago.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans said there was little to no change in their net worth in the past year and only 25 percent said it had improved. Those with more education and more money were the most likely to say their net worth had improved. Forty-two percent of college graduates said they had a higher net worth than a year ago, compared with 16 percent of those with a high school degree or less. At the same time lower wage earners were the most likely to see a decline in net worth.

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