In 2012, Financial Resolutions May Beat Out Health and Fitness

A fifth of workers surveyed said not saving enough was their top financial blunder in 2011.

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For many of us, money worries take precedence over our own health and fitness goals. As such, finances appear to be the area many people want to fix in 2012.

When asked to select their top financial blunder of 2011, approximately 1 out of 5 workers surveyed by Principal Financial Group said they did not save enough during the year. And 18 percent said increasing debt was their top mistake.

[See 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes.]

Looking toward 2012, saving a set amount of money each month and paying off credit cards were the top financial-specific New Year's resolutions, at 26 percent. Twenty-one percent said they are resolving to cut spending by a specific amount each month in 2012.

Individuals may be assessing their personal financial situations, but many feel hampered by bigger-picture issues. Experts don't want those smart individual resolutions to fail out of the gate because the nation's economic fight appears too daunting for households to overcome.

"In today's uncertain economic environment, it is important for Americans to focus on what they can control versus what they cannot," says Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investor services at the Principal Financial Group. "Having a financial strategy and actively saving for financial emergencies and retirement can help reduce some of the pressures and anxiety many are feeling today."

[See 10 Ways to Give Your Money a Makeover.]

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index, compiled from a poll of American workers at growing businesses with 10 to 1,000 workers as well as retirees, shows that the economy is the greatest source of stress for Americans, followed by their own personal finances, job, and health. Half of retirees (52 percent) and 2 out of 5 workers (42 percent) reported a high stress level with regard to the economy, while 30 percent of retirees and 34 percent of workers said personal finances caused high stress. Less than a third of workers (30 percent) say their job causes stress, and far fewer (19 percent of retirees and 15 percent of employees) report stress over physical health.

The nation's economic uncertainty is taking a greater toll on older Americans. Those over age 50 (51 percent of those 50 to 64 years and 59 percent of those 65 years and older) reported higher stress levels regarding the economy than those under 50 (30 percent of those 18 to 34 years and 40 percent of those 35 to 49 years). Overall, females (41 percent) were significantly more likely than males (29 percent) to rate their stress level related to their personal finances as "high."

[See 12 Retirement Resolutions for 2012.]

Market volatility adds to jitters. With the economy a main source of stress, many Americans also report concern over market volatility impacting their long-term and short-term financial well-being. Two out of five workers (41 percent) and one-third of retirees say they are nervous about their ability to save due to market volatility. Another quarter of workers (26 percent) and one-third of retirees have reduced their spending because they've lost money due to market volatility. Some 22 percent of workers and 18 percent of retirees have moved to a more conservative investment approach.

A separate study from Fidelity Investments shows 84 percent of respondents asserting that the economy is already in or likely to suffer a double-dip recession. As a result, nearly 4 in 10 of those surveyed say they are not confident in their ability to make the right investment decisions given the current economy and market volatility.

But Americans appear to be willing to adopt a more upbeat mindset heading into 2012, at least at this point of setting their resolutions. Households say they won't let national issues derail their financial resolutions.

More than 8 in 10 (85 percent) Americans who resolved to save more say their current savings behavior is likely to continue as the economy recovers, Fidelity says. This is up from 80 percent last year. Additionally, the majority (66 percent) of those considering a financial resolution say the economic events of the past year will help them stick with the resolutions made in 2011.