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Meltdown jolts consumers from financial fairyland

 
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09/21/2009 04:02 AM
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Meltdown jolts consumers from financial fairyland
CHICAGO The stock market bounced back, just as it has for nearly three decades. It just doesn't feel that way.

Last year's financial meltdown knocked the swagger out of Americans' views toward investing. The baby boomers who forged the Reagan bull market; survived the 1987 crash; bought Amazon.com at $2 a share and sold at $100; brushed off the collapse of the dot-com bubble and kept plowing money into their 401(k)s are reassessing what they once believed.

It's hard, after all, to keep the faith in buy-and-hold after the market crashed harder than at any time since the Great Depression. It's hard to trust your financial adviser after Bernard Madoff stole billions from his clients. Most of all, it's hard for a generation that equated personal finance with investing in stocks to accept that the rules have changed.

People are still investing. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 58 percent since hitting a 12-year low on March 9. 401(k) participation rates have held steady.

But financial planners around the country say there is a sense that people are returning to basic principles that were shunted aside: Maximize your savings; limit your use of credit cards; keep a substantial emergency fund; know how much risk you can tolerate; diversify your investments; don't try to short-cut your way to wealth.

"Before the market chaos, there was a very low savings rate, inappropriate use of credit cards, too much risk in investments, excessive spending on residences," says Tom Warschauer, a finance professor at San Diego State University. "Virtually every type of financial decision was being made in a kind of fairyland atmosphere, thinking 'This will lead me to be better off' when in fact that was never the case."

Warschauer, who also sees clients as a certified financial planner, predicts the new behavior could last for a decade. Others financial planners say people still believe in the market; they're just more realistic.

"People were in shock for a while. Now they're reassessing their situation and being very pragmatic, especially about their retirement," says Mark Jamison, a vice president at financial services firm Charles Schwab Corp. "They are learning that if you're willing to work a little more, spend a little less, take Social Security later, things can still work out all right."


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[link to news.yahoo.com]
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