PhotoWorries about where the economy his headed prompted holiday shoppers to keep an eye on the nickels and dimes.

New research published by Bankrate.com shows 28 percent of Americans spent less than expected this holiday season while just 16 percent spent more than expected. This was held true for most age groups -- with only those under age 30 slightly more inclined to have spent more than expected.

When Bankrate asked the same holiday spending question a year ago, 24 percent of Americans spent less than expected and 17 percent spent more. Two years ago, 27 percent spent less than expected and 19percent spent more.

Financial security

At the same time, Bankrate said its Financial Security Index jumped three points to 98.6 in January -- the biggest increase in 13 months -- following a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. However, this is still lower than the October reading of 99.2 and is consistent with Americans’ long-term feelings of deteriorating financial security.

When the Financial Security Index is below 100, it indicates that Americans’ financial security is lower than the year before. The index has been below 100 in 24 of the 26 months since its inception in Dec. 2010.

“These results illustrate that the fiscal cliff was hardly the only headwind impacting the U.S. economy,” said Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst. “Yes, the resolution brought some temporary relief, but the economy continues to plod along in first gear. It’s going to take sustained, substantive job growth in order for Americans to feel considerably better about their financial security.”

Additional highlights

Findings in the latest Financial Security Index show:

  • Americans’ sentiment regarding their job security, savings, net worth and overall financial situation all posted increases over the past month. Job security and net worth have improved relative to one year ago.
  • Higher-income and more educated households were the most inclined to report higher net worth than one year ago.
  • The reading on Americans’ comfort level with debt was unchanged from one month ago.
  • Savings remains a sore spot. More than one-third of Americans are less comfortable with their savings now compared with 12 months ago, but just 13 percent are more comfortable. This disparity is evident across all age and income brackets.

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