How Consumers Assess the Prospects of Their Personal Finances in 202412/27/2023
As we move into 2024, consumers are cautiously assessing their financial prospects. Recent findings from an AJ Bell survey reveal a sobering sentiment: 40% of consumers believe there won't be any improvement in their financial situation compared to the challenging times of 2022.
The Lingering Effects of Inflation and Interest Rates
Inflation, a persistent economic challenge, rose by 4.7% in the year leading up to October 2023. Although it's now on a downward trend, its effects continue to resonate.
Laith Khalaf, Head of Investment Analysis at AJ Bell, notes that despite the cooling inflation, it builds upon previous double-digit levels. This, combined with the anticipation of interest rate cuts, leads to a mixed outlook among consumers, with only a fifth expecting a drop in interest rates by year's end.
A significant 75% of individuals report lifestyle changes due to inflation and interest rate hikes. These adjustments include reducing gas and electricity use (40%), cutting back on holidays (27%), switching to budget supermarkets (25%), and canceling subscriptions like streaming services or gym memberships (17%).
Khalaf points out that such widespread belt-tightening has a domino effect on the UK's economic growth, which is projected to be lackluster in 2024.
Changing Work Patterns and Investment Strategies
The survey also highlights shifts in work patterns and investment strategies.
Consumers appear to be clinging to long-term investments, indicative of a cautious yet hopeful approach. Interestingly, only 4% have reduced pension contributions, possibly due to the loss of tax relief and employer contributions that would ensue.
Conversely, a notable proportion, over 20%, now expect to delay retirement due to the current economic climate.
Amidst these challenges, only a small fraction (5%) have sold off investments, a number significantly lower than the 25% who have dipped into their cash savings. This suggests a restrained approach to managing investments in turbulent times.
Wages, Mortgages, and the Taxman
On a somewhat positive note, wages continue to grow, albeit at a pace that barely keeps up with rising mortgage payments and taxes.
Khalaf warns of the impending impact of mortgage rate changes, especially with the prevalence of fixed rates in recent years, which could mean increased housing costs. Additionally, the tax burden is expected to soar to its highest level since World War II, adding more strain on consumer finances.
A Call for Prudent Financial Management
As 2024 unfolds, consumers face a complex financial landscape marked by the lingering effects of inflation, changing interest rates, and an increased tax burden.
The key takeaway is the importance of prudent financial management. This includes making informed decisions about investments, savings, and lifestyle choices, while also preparing for potential changes in work patterns and retirement plans.