The Normal Expenses Are the Toughest

The spectacle of swooning stock prices is scarcely a boon to consumers’ confidence, but does it impinge on most Americans’ finances? An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters suggests not. Just one-third said the state of their investments in the stock market affects them either “a great deal” (21 percent) or “quite a bit” (12 percent). Nearly as many said it touches them “just some” (18 percent) or “very little” (11 percent), while more said the question doesn’t apply to them (36 percent).

Despite the damage the mortgage crisis is doing to the economy, even fewer feel on the brink due to the “cost and security” of their own mortgage. Seventeen percent said they’re affected by this “a great deal” and 5 percent “quite a bit.” Twelve percent said it affects them “just some” and 16 percent “very little.” Nearly half, 48 percent, said the question doesn’t even apply to them.

Far more people said they’re significantly affected by the cost of gasoline and home heating oil (65 percent “a great deal,” 14 percent “quite a bit”) and of groceries and household goods (50 percent “a great deal,” 17 percent “quite a bit”). The cost of healthcare weighs on 45 percent a great deal and on 13 percent quite a bit. One moral is that marketers who wish to commiserate with struggling consumers will fare better by emphasizing regular living expenses rather than people’s travails in the real estate and equity markets.