Consumers Need $150,000 a Year to Live Comfortably: Study

By Courtney Reagan, CNBC Reporter

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- Despite rising consumer confidence and strong February same-store sales, don't celebrate the return of the consumer just yet. The findings of a recent study by WSL/Strategic Retail provide some sobering observations.

Most consumers still feel as though they are struggling to afford the basic necessities.

"Every retailer wants to think 'Everything I sell is worth it! Shoppers will love it', but the hard reality is 52% Americans feel they barely have enough to afford the basics," said Candace Corlett, president of WSL/Strategic Retail.

Corlett's comments are based on a survey WSL/Strategic Retail conducted of 1,950 consumers in December regarding their shopping habits.

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Consumers have moved past the fear that was seen in the firm's 2010 How America Shops survey, Corlett said. However, they are returning to stores, but with limits.

Feeling the Strain

And it's not just the lower-income consumers feeling the strain. Three groups are experiencing higher rates of financial struggle: those with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000, those aged 18 to 34 years old, and women.

According to this year's "How America Shops" survey, it now takes an income of more than $150,000 to be able to afford the basics, some extras and to save too.

As for the once-coveted 18- to 34-year-old market, it is now the demographic struggling the most when it comes to buying power.

In addition, about 75% of women say it's important to get the lowest price on everything they buy, up 12 percentage points from 2008. In this group, 68% are using coupons regularly and 45% are only buying items on sale.

Since the financial crisis, retailers have employed heavy promotions, perhaps unintentionally cementing these shopping behaviors.