One reason is that the boom years that preceded the financial crisis were as much an aberration as the last five years have been. Those free-spending days, experts now understand, were fueled by families taking on enormous debt, not by healthy wage gains. No one expects a repeat of those excesses.
More importantly, economists cite a psychological "scarring" that continues to shape behavior. Scarring is a fear of losing money that grips people during a period of collapsing jobs, incomes and wealth, and then doesn't let go.
The desire for safety remains even after jobs return, wages rise and financial and housing markets recover. Think of Americans who suffered through the Great Depression and stayed frugal for decades, even as the U.S. economy boomed after World War II.
Although not on a level with the Depression, some economists think the psychological blow of the financial crisis was severe enough that households won't increase their borrowing and spending to what would be considered normal levels for another five years or longer.
To better understand why people remain so cautious five years after the crisis, AP interviewed consumers around the world. A look at what they're thinking — and doing — with their money:
Rick Stonecipher of Muncie, Ind., doesn't like stocks anymore, for the same reason that millions of investors have turned against them — the stock market crash that began in October 2008 and didn't end until the following March.
"My brokers said they were really safe, but they weren't," says Stonecipher, 59, a substitute school teacher.
That individual investors would sell while markets plunged is not surprising. Households nearly always bail out as stocks drop, only to buy again after they rise.
But this time was different. In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average rocketed 118 percent over the next four years and reached a record high in March. In Germany, the DAX Index soared 116 percent and hit a record in May. In the U.K., the FTSE 100 index rose 85 percent. Yet small investors mostly sold during that period, an extraordinary vote of no confidence.