Americans Fall Into 4 Money Mindsets. Which Is Yours?

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This post comes from Christine DiGangi at partner site

About 90 percent of Americans engage in some sort of personal financial planning, but few have a clear, well-rounded approach to reaching their goals.

That’s the finding of the 2013 Household Financial Planning Survey and Index, sponsored by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and the Consumer Federation of America. The study followed the 2012 Household Financial Planning Survey, which tied the time and effort put into planning with better financial outcomes.

The 2013 index awarded consumers points for specific financial behaviors that fell into three categories:

  • Comprehensive financial planning.
  • Basic financial planning.
  • Credit card debt management.

Based on scores from those criteria, Americans fell into one of four groups — comprehensive planners, basic planners, limited planners and non-planners. Here’s who they are:

The Perfectionists (comprehensive planners) — 19 percent of Americans

These consumers know the exact route to their financial goals, whether they drew the map themselves or sought professional planning guidance. Not only do they have a household budget, which includes retirement savings and insurance, but they work toward specific savings goals.

  • Two-thirds use a certified financial planner or registered investment adviser for planning assistance.
  • 88 percent have a specific plan for retirement.
  • 80 percent have a plan for emergency savings.
  • More than half have a household income greater than $100,000.

The Dreamers (basic planners) — 38 percent of Americans

The largest group of consumers falls in this category. They have some goals worked out and have an idea of what they’d like to achieve — they just haven’t yet worked out all the details. For instance, Dreamers may have savings plans for retirement or education, but they haven’t pulled everything together to form an overarching plan.

  • Two-thirds have a household budget.
  • Less than half of them write down their budget or store it electronically.
  • 35 percent have a comprehensive plan.
  • 31 percent are likely to make that plan within the next year.

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The Procrastinators (limited planners) — 33 percent of Americans

These consumers put forth the bare minimum and might get to the rest of planning later. Most in this group have a budget or plan to address savings goals, but not both. Their comprehensive financial planning behaviors don’t differ much from non-planners’ — they’re nearly nonexistent in both groups — but some Procrastinators keep a written budget, and they tend to avoid racking up credit card debt.

  • 31 percent plan for retirement, but only 7 percent save for emergencies, and only 7 percent save for anything else.
  • 11 percent are likely to make a comprehensive plan within the next year.
  • 44 percent have a household budget (only 15 percent write it down).

The Wanderers (non-planners) — 10 percent of Americans

In this group, consumers just kind of float from bill to bill without any strategic approach to money management. They exhibit nearly no comprehensive financial planning behaviors, with less than 1 percent likely to create a comprehensive plan in the next 12 months. Wanderers are about as likely as Perfectionists to take on $5,000 or more in credit card debt, while 45 percent of them have a household income of less than $25,000.

  • 90 percent have no plan in place for specific savings goals.
  • 40 percent have significant credit card debt.
  • Half of them have no plan to pay down that debt.

In general, planners exhibited more confidence in financial decision-making and saved more money. For comparison: 53 percent of Perfectionists feel very confident in their financial decisions, while only 26 percent of Wanderers felt that way. On the flip side, 41 percent of Wanderers said they had little or no confidence, and only 6 percent of Perfectionists expressed that sentiment.

Such confidence comes from understanding one’s financial situation. With the wealth of planning tools available online, from budgeting to student loan management, anyone can set financial goals. A great way to take stock of your financial picture is to check your credit health using a free tool like’s free Credit Report Card. It allows consumers to check their credit score and identify areas that need work on a monthly basis. Free tools like that help make financial planning accessible for consumers of any money mindset.

The bottom line? Yes, planners tend to make more money, but good decision-making doesn’t come with cash. Regardless of income level, planners achieved better financial outcomes than non-planners.

The 2013 survey was conducted April 12-24 by Princeton Data Source and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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