Big life decisions — starting a family, buying a house, pursuing higher education — cost money, but significantly fewer Americans today are putting off such decisions for financial reasons than three years ago when they were still emerging from the recession.

The American Institute of CPAs reported Tuesday that only 35% of Americans in a new survey reported delaying at least one important life decision in the last year because of financial concerns, compared with 51% who did so in a 2015 survey.

The poll showed that the percentage of Americans postponing specific life events for financial reasons has been nearly cut in half in several areas. Take marriage. Last year, 6% put off exchanging vows, down from 12% in 2015.

Just 7% of respondents delayed having children, compared with 13% in 2015.

The AICPA noted that unstable economic times can make getting married and starting a family hard because of the financial commitment involved, especially when you consider that the average wedding in the U.S. costs more than $30,000 and the estimated price to raise a child through age 17 eclipses $230,000.

“As the economy continues to pick up steam and we put the recession further in the rearview mirror, it is important to be cautious and not forget the difficult financial lessons we learned,” Greg Anton, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a statement.

“When making a major life decision, don’t just focus on the immediate costs. Consider the long-term financial implications as well. Taking on too much credit card debt to buy things your savings can’t cover or making big purchases when you aren’t financially stable are reckless moves in any economy.”

The positive trend also showed up in higher education, according to the survey. Whereas in 2015, 24% of Americans reported that they had delayed furthering their education because of financial concerns, now only 13% were doing so.

At the same time, the AICPA said that with overall college enrollment down and the average cost of college tuition continuing to rise, Americans may be questioning the idea that going to college is the best financial decision for everyone.

And with the average student graduating with $39,400 in loans, higher education can potentially affect savings and other financial decisions well into early adulthood.

The survey further found fewer Americans prevented by costs from getting into the housing market. In 2018, only 14% delayed buying a home for financial reasons, compared with 22% in 2015.

Similarly, financial concerns caused 12% of Americans to delay getting a medical procedure, down seven percentage points from 2015, and 10% to put off retiring, down eight points from 2015.

These results come from an early April telephone survey of 510 men and 504 women across the U.S. conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the AICPA.

Postponed Life Decisions

Among survey participants who said they had postponed life decisions, 60% cited a lack of savings as the main concern, the same percent who pointed to lack of savings in 2015.

The second biggest factor, cited by 38% of respondents was concerns about the U.S. economy, down from 50% who said this three years ago, followed by medical bills, cited by 34%, up from 29% in 2015 — the only factor to worsen over three years.

The AICPA said medical bills were forcing more Americans to put off major life events, given that health spending was projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5% per year. It also noted that the financial burden from medical bills is the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy.

Other matters that have caused Americans to delay life decisions this year, according to the survey, were nonmortgage monthly bills, 29%; credit card debt, 27%; elder care or care for relatives, 25%; concerns about losing a job, 22%; and difficulty making mortgage payments, 17%.

The AICPA suggested that some Americans may be forgetting what they learned in the wake of the recession. The survey found that 68% of respondents reported making at least one positive change to their financial behavior since the recession, down from 85% in the 2015 survey who said they had done so.

As to specific changes:

  • Following a monthly budget: 39% in 2018, versus 58% in 2015
  • Starting or increasing savings rate: 36% versus 44%
  • Putting less money on credit cards: 30% versus 50%
  • Starting or adding to an emergency fund: 30% versus 35%
  • Starting or increasing retirement account contributions: 28% versus 32%

“It is important to remember there is a natural ebb and flow to the economy that can have a significant negative impact on those who overextend their finances,” Anton said. “America is in the middle of a strong economic period, but not too long ago many were caught off-guard by the recession.”

— Check out 10 Most Expensive US Cities to Rent an Apartment: April 2018 on ThinkAdvisor.