by Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

First the bad news – Unemployment rates are high, peoples’ life savings and retirement investments are still depleted, home values have tanked. Now the good news: Surprisingly, Americans are feeling less stress from debt these days.

The gist of a study, conducted by the Associated Press is that people are optimistic that they’ll eventually be able to get out from under a mountain of bills, a major factor behind the decline in stress from last year.

According to the poll: Debt-related stress was 12 percent lower this year than in 2008. “People now have some optimism that the worst is behind them,” said Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist and AP consultant who analyzed the results of the survey.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, staying in has become the new going out, which – in spite of the fact that people and families are dealing with depleted finances – has had some positive effects. Families are connecting. People are viewing their budget as a team effort. Couples are saving more. All these things are also likely factors in the increase in positive debt perception that the study reveals. People feel like they might be gaining control of their lives again.

In my book, Financial Infidelity, I encourage people to talk about their money history – both in their own lives, and as a reflection of what they learned growing up, or in their past. It seems like more people may have started to do this, and subsequently have gotten on the same “financial page” and are willing to make a few sacrifices whereas before they may not have been as open to the idea.

Of course, this has had somewhat of a negative effect on the economy as a whole – if Americans were to sharply cut back spending, that could prolong the recession and hopes of recovery this year.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and as such, Americans aren’t dealing with record-high gas prices as they were last summer. Credit and financial problems, which reached a crisis point last fall, have shown some signs of easing.

It would be naive to think that because overall debt-related stress is down from this time last year, we’re out of the woods. Obviously our habits continue to have potentially dangerous repercussions both in our personal lives and in our economy as a whole, but people are definitely thinking more about their finances and their spending. And I would say that’s a net gain!


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