Aideen Sheehan : Rainy days are here and fear is driving us to save more than ever
DON'T save for a rainy day -- save when the rainy day is upon you.
Money may be too tight to mention if you ask any shopkeeper, but bad times have prompted Irish people to bank more of their hard-earned cash than ever before.
New figures reveal our current woes aren't caused by a lack of money. In fact a lot of them are caused by us being overly prudent as we hunker down in terrified anticipation of losing our livelihoods.
Never before have we achieved such a high level of savings, with the new UCD report showing personal savings more than trebled from a paltry 3pc of disposable income in 2007 to 11pc last year.
Cash may have been flowing freely during the boom years, but rather than investing it prudently, it appeared to act as a licence to spend for many of us who bought at will and thought nothing of racking up debts on our credit cards.
Even when the Government paid people to save -- giving them a generous 25pc bonus for their SSIAs -- consumers weren't putting away nearly as much of their income as they are now, showing fear and uncertainty will always trump state policy when it comes to driving human behaviour.
The recession appears to have triggered an unprecedented drive to build the biggest nest egg we can manage in a bid to arm ourselves against job and pay cuts -- even where these have been less damaging than many of us originally feared.
The result is visible in shops and businesses all around the country, as desperate owners cut prices and try to get people to loosen their purse strings.
But for the hundreds of thousands of people new to the dole queues in the last year, and the many more who fear they could still end up there, it could still be a long wait before they believe any of the much-heralded green shoots are really starting to show.
Irish people have reduced their personal debt levels for the first time since 1993, and are also paying off credit card debt, although it will be a while before that particular mountain is fully eroded.
But economists are predicting that our savings do bode well for the future -- because at some point people will become tired of austerity and start spending again -- whether it's ditching the homemade sandwiches at work, getting that blow-dry or booking that weekend break away.
There's no sign of a spending spree yet in 2010 -- despite the government scrappage scheme, new car sales have been slow so far this year. But dealers have blamed that on the bad weather at the start of the month, with a sudden influx of 10-number plates appearing on the streets in recent days possibly boding better times ahead for the motor industry.
And as report author Prof Mary Lambkin noted, while saving is like a contagion, so too is spending, so it is likely the pendulum will swing back again.