NEW YORK —
High unemployment has played a role. But economists say the financial crisis, and the government debt crisis that started in Europe a year later, has spooked even people who can afford to splurge to cut back.
Arnaud Reze, 36, owns a home in Nantes, France, has piled up money in savings accounts and stocks, and has a government job that guarantees 75 percent of his pay in retirement. But he fears the pension guarantee won't be kept. So he's stopped buying coffee at cafes and cut back on lunches with colleagues and saved in numerous other ways. "Little stupid things that I would buy left and right ... I don't buy anymore," he says.
Even the rich are spending cautiously.
Five years ago, Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer at Sanderson Farms, a large U.S. poultry producer in Laurel, Miss., had just paid off a mortgage and was looking forward to the extra spending money. Then Lehman collapsed, and he decided to save it instead.
"I watched the news of the stock market going down 100, 200 points a day, and I was glad I had cash," he says, recalling the steep drops in the Dow Jones industrial average then. "That strategy will not change."
The wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households are saving 30 percent of their take-home pay, triple what they were saving in 2008, according to a July report from American Express Publishing and Harrison Group, a research firm.
After years of saving more and shedding debt, the good news is that many people have repaired their personal finances.
Americans have slashed their credit card debt to 2002 levels. In the U.K., personal bank loans, not including mortgages, are no larger than they were in 1999. In addition, home prices in some countries are rising.