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Consumers seem pretty happy with their own finances. But they’re worried about the economy.

Mitchell Hartman Feb 10, 2023
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Despite the burden of inflation, some consumers still feel upbeat about their personal economies. Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

Consumers seem pretty happy with their own finances. But they’re worried about the economy.

Mitchell Hartman Feb 10, 2023
Heard on:
Despite the burden of inflation, some consumers still feel upbeat about their personal economies. Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
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This week, Gallup released a poll showing that half of American adults say they’re worse off financially than they were a year ago. That is the highest share since 2009, during the financial crisis.

​On Friday, we got the results of another poll that seems to point in exactly the opposite direction. The University of Michigan consumer survey finds sentiment has been inching upward in recent months — granted, from historic lows — as inflation has moderated. According to that measure, consumers are more bullish than they’ve been in a year.

​So how are consumers really feeling about where the economy’s headed? We thought we’d check for ourselves.

When we talked a year ago, 28-year-old Michael Huber of Rhode Island had a decent job in cybersecurity. 

“I was not doing so great — kind of living paycheck to paycheck. I had just gotten rejected for a house, a small, 800-square-foot condo in the basement of a building,” he said.

He was making about $80,000 and spending $400 to $500 a month on gasoline. Since then, he changed jobs, got a big raise, bought a house and mostly works from home, so he’s spending less on gas. 

“It’s as close to a 180 as you can imagine,” Huber said.

Things have been pretty good in construction electrician Tony Libert’s personal economy too. He’s 60 and lives near Madison, Wisconsin.

“We’re a university-government town, so we’ve got plenty of work in that area,” he said. “I have gotten raises as prices have gone up.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic moratorium on student loan payments has been saving 33-year-old Ashley Phillips more than $1,000 a month. She runs a research lab in Durham, North Carolina.

“Things are in a lot more secure place financially,” she said. “We were able to pay off credit card debt, save enough money to put a down payment on a house” — and they decided they could afford to have a baby. 

But inflation has eaten into their financial cushion. “Maybe I’ll get the store brand of butter, skip certain things just ’cause I can’t stand the thought of paying $4 for an avocado,” Phillips said.

And with interest rates so high, Phillips said buying another car is off the table right now. 

High prices have Libert worried too. He coaches youth hockey. “The cost of equipment, the cost of ice time — all of that has gone up tremendously. It’s been double-digit inflation in those areas. So it’s affecting who can play.”

If there’s one takeaway from all these interviews, it’s that people are cautiously optimistic about their own economies, but totally uncertain about what the future holds for the economy economy.

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