The '80s have been a turbulent decade in terms of financial changes. Increased costs, new technologies, a wide variety of products have changed much of how we manage our finances these days. But a couple of things are essentially unchanged. We save money and we spend money - not necessarily in that order.

Sometimes it seems we spend more than we save. Sometimes we spend plastic instead of money - just putting off the day of retribution. Sometimes we find we can put a little away for a rainy day.On the whole, Americans do seem to subscribe to that rainy day theory. The latest "Americans and Their Money" survey conducted by Money Magazine showed that in 1987, 65 percent of those surveyed had $5,000 or more in savings. Only 10 percent had less than $3,000.

On the other hand, Americans also like to spend. Two out of three Americans report they enjoy spending money (women tend to enjoy it a bit more than men, and younger people enjoy it slightly more than those in the 65+ age bracket).

Approximately 65 percent of those surveyed say they go on shopping sprees from time to time. And people say they are three times more likely to go on a shopping spree when they are in a good mood (57 percent) than in a bad mood (20 percent).

They also enjoy spending money on some things more than others and feel that some products and services are overpriced. According to survey respondents, the most overpriced items (from a given list of 16 items) were doctors' fees (81 percent felt they were overpriced), cars (77 percent), car insurance (72 percent), lawyers' fees (70 percent) and interest charges on credit cards (60 percent). These were followed by housing costs (56 percent), clothing (52 percent) and annual fees on credit cards (48 percent).

Consumer finance surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve Board also reveal American attitudes toward saving, spending, use of credit and banking services.

For example, 32.1 percent of those participating in one national survey said they prefer using cash (as opposed to checks and credit cards) because it takes less time to pay; 47.2 percent said they prefer checks or credit cards because of the record of purchase.

Every other week seems to be the most prevalent pattern for getting salary checks; slightly more than a third of workers are paid this way. Next most popular is once a week. Less than 10 percent get paid once a month.

The most popular way of obtaining cash is getting cash back on a deposit into savings or checking account, followed by cashing a check at the bank, an automated teller machine or cashing a check at a store.

The average amount obtained per check cashed is $80; the average number of checks cashed (for cash) per month is 4.4. The average amount of cash on hand just before getting more cash is $15.

According to the surveys, the average American uses a credit card about four times a month. And the average amount spent each time a card is used is: gasoline credit card, $18; Visa/Mastercard, $55, travel & entertainment card, $89; and store and other cards, $44.

The Federal Reserve Board plans on conducting another major survey on consumer finances in 1989. In the meantime, here are some other results of previous surveys. They provide a chance to see how you compare to other Americans in spending and saving attitudes.

Savings Attitudes

Primary reason for saving:

Emergencies 41.3 percent

Purchases 15.9

Retirement 15.8

Children 9.4

Buy home 3.7

Other reason 13.9

Attitude toward risk:

Willing to take substantial risks 6.2 percent

Willing to take more than average risks 11.0

Willing to take average risks 38.4

Willing to take no risks 44.4

Attitude toward liquidity:

Willing to tie up assets for substantial time 12.3 percent

Willing to tie up assets more than average 26.4

Willing to tie up assets for average time 31.7

Not willing to tie up assets at all 29.7

Saving during previous year:

Put more money in savings than took out 33.3 percent

About the same money in savings 24.9

Took more out of savings than put in 41.8

Major source of wealth:

Savings out of income 86.8 percent

Inheritance 7.9

Have no assets 5.3

Expect inheritance in future 13.5


Buying on installment plan:

Good idea 44.8 percent

Sometimes good, sometimes bad 31.2

Bad idea 24.0

Most important thing in choosing loan:

Size of payments 32.1 percent

Interest rate 19.4

Size of loan 19.2

Dollar size of finance charges 15.9

Downpayment 6.5

Other terms 6.9

Borrowing history:

Turned down for loan 13.1 percent

Got loan, but less than asked for 2.0

Dissuaded from loan because thought

would be turned down 10.1


Primary reason for checking account location:

Convenient location 40.6 percent

No service charge/high interest 20.6

Other financial services offered 17.0

Safety 16.5

Other reason 5.3

Other services used at main bank:

Other checking account 10.9 percent

Money market or savings account 43.2

Credit card 22.0

Mortgage loan 9.8

Other loan 17.7

IRA/Keogh 6.7

Certificate of deposit 12.1


Use of banking institutions:

Use at least one bank regularly 82.4 percent

Use more than one bank regularly 33.6

Use Savings & Loan regularly 49.2

Credit Union member 26.7

Use finance company regularly 15.5

Have account at a stock brokerage7.3