If they could do it over again, the majority of Americans said they would have done a better job of managing their money before the recession hit, according to a TD Ameritrade survey released Tuesday.

More than half, or 56%, of Americans surveyed in the poll conducted for TD Ameritrade by independent researcher Harris Interactive said they would have managed their money differently if they could go back to the time before the 2008-9 recession.

Specifically, survey participants would have done the following:
• 71% would have spent less and saved more
• 65% would have lived within their means
• 60% would have taken more personal responsibility for managing their money

The poll results were based on an online survey of 1,088 U.S. adults between the ages of 22 and 80 that took place from Sept. 28 through Oct. 19, 2010.

“Americans seem to have been taken off-guard financially with the downturn of the economy. And while it has been a tough lesson to learn, it’s a promising sign that we’re acknowledging what went wrong, particularly as we approach a new year,” said Stuart Rubinstein, managing director of client engagement at TD Ameritrade, in a statement. “The recession can be considered a teachable moment that served as an eye-opening catalyst for change in terms of financial preparedness.”

Survey participants also admitted that they relied on credit cards frequently and allowed their debts to mount, with 60% saying they would have paid down debt if

they could go back in time and 50% reporting they would have paid for purchases with cash instead of credit cards.

The lifestyle for families also took a hit. The survey found many Americans were forced to delay big-ticket purchases and alter their savings habits:
• 36% delayed travel
• 25% delayed purchasing a car
• 25% delayed paying down debt
• 21% delayed saving and investing in general
• 17% delayed saving and investing for retirement

For 44% of those surveyed, those items will continue to be low on the priority list for some time, and it will likely be one to three years before they can pursue the things they put off during the recession.

Read about a TD Ameritrade survey on the best time to talk to clients at AdvisorOne.com.