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Study: Less Than One-Third Of Americans Keep Household Budget

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File photo of money. (Photo: PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of money. (Photo: PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) – The average American household lacks serious fiscal responsibility, with less than one-third of Americans reporting that they keep a household budget of any sort.

A Gallup poll finds that just 32 percent of Americans keep track of a budget each month to track income or their expenditures. Only 30 percent showed they have a long-term financial plan for laying out savings and investment goals.

Those with higher incomes or college degrees were a bit more likely to say they regularly put together a budget, though less than half in those groups said they keep close tabs on their financial life. Only about a quarter with a high school diploma or less say they do.

And, as rare as they suggest budgeting may be, the results of the poll could even look a little better than reality. People want to be seen as good citizens, so when they’re asked by a pollster whether they do things that are generally seen as positive, good-person activities, they fudge a little. Pollsters call this “social desirability bias,” and a great example of it is voting. Without fail, more people tell pollsters that they turn out to vote than actually do.

The way Gallup phrased the question highlights one way to fight social desirability bias. Its detail leaves little wiggle room for people to say “yes” unless they really keep a budget. Pollsters asked if the respondent or their spouse “prepare a detailed written or computerized household budget each month that tracks your income and expenditures,” a rather high – and specific – bar.

Compare that to a Pew Social Trends poll conducted a few years back. The Pew poll asked, “Do you have a budget to guide your household expenses or don’t you rely on a formal budget?” Described in those broader terms, 48 percent of Americans said they kept a budget.

And despite the frequent political invocation of a budgeted family, Gallup’s finding may not reflect a new trend in Americans’ financial behavior. A 1951 Gallup survey showed that only 40 percent of Americans said they had “a budget for household expenses.”

That poll asked those who didn’t maintain a budget why they skipped it. The most frequent response? We spend it all anyhow.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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