Five years after the start of "The Great Recession," frugality has become a way of life for most Americans.  That is the conclusion of a new survey conducted for Fidelity Investments called "Five Years After."  The study examined the saving and spending habits of nearly 1,200 investors since the recession began in 2008, and found that many are still applying the tough lessons from the economic downturn.  The survey found 78% say they've made permanent changes to their financial behavior.  And most of those changes are good things. "The biggest thing that people learned in the recession is that debt and credit cards can really be bad if you overuse them," says Houston financial planner Michael Parmet.  "They've also learned that real estate doesn't always go up and the stock market doesn't always go up."

Many people appear to have taken those lessons to heart.  The study found 42% of those surveyed have increased their contributions to workplace savings and retirement plans, 55% say they are now better prepared for retirement than before the crisis, and 72% now have less debt than before the recession.  That might be the most important stat of all, according to Parmet.  "We've got to limit the amount of debt in our life, as well as our government's debt, and a lot of that is learning to live below your means," he says.  "By living below your means you can actually save money and then have money in the case of an emergency."  Parmet notes that living below your means often requires checking your own ego.  "Learn to avoid peer pressure don't have to pick up the tab," he says.  "It's really making lifestyle changes."

Americans everywhere are making those lifestyle changes.  But while frugality is the new normal overall, here in Houston there's considerably less belt-tightening.  Parmet notes that because our economy wasn't hit as hard by the recession and has recovered more quickly, Houstonians are opening up their pocketbooks.  "Car sales are the highest they've been in a number of years," he says.  "That's kind of the leader showing that in Houston things are good." 

Get more tips on improving your finances and a closer look at the "Five Years After" study here.