What little confidence US consumers have is being undermined by the recent tumult on Wall Street.
Americans struggling with lean wages and job insecurity have seen their 401(k) accounts (retirement savings account) shrivel over the past two-and-a-half weeks.
A plunge in oil prices has provided some relief at the pump, but not enough to ameliorate anxiety about the overall US economy.
When consumers feel less wealthy, they're less likely to buy new furniture, new appliances or new cars. And because their spending drives about 70 percent of the US economy, analysts fear a negative feedback loop in which markets and consumers drag each other down.
"We'll just scare ourselves into a recession," says David Kelly, chief market strategist with JP Morgan Funds.
Murray Specktor, 58, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, says he has enough money tucked away to support himself. But with the Dow Jones industrial average more than 11 percent lower than it was less than three weeks ago, he's taking further precautions.
"No expensive meals out," he says. "Entertainment's going to get cut back. Until I see where this is going, I've just got to preserve capital and try to get my comfort level up."
Image: News of a massive stock selloff rolls around a ticker in Times Square, Monday, August 8, 2011, in New York.
Text: Paul Wiseman, AP