The gas bill is up 25 per cent, you are spending 92p a litre when you fill up and it no longer seems quite such a good idea to apply for a new maximum on the credit card. So try something new, skip this week's visit to the cinema, or give the betting shop a miss. Some people are even economising on weekend breaks, to the chagrin of hoteliers.

That is what the latest CBI/Grant Thornton survey of services is telling us. The service economy is still going great guns - but only the bits of it serving companies rather

than personal consumers. There is a logic there. Companies pay more readily for the for professional help when things look dodgy than they do in balmy times when the answers seem self-evident.

Private individuals must earn more, borrow, or spend less.

The earning more is less easy. To the Bank of England's relief, average earnings have not shot up to make good rampant energy inflation, let alone last year's devastating council tax increases.

Buying power is under pressure - without allowing for the long-awaited revival of savings or a more cautious use of credit cards.

We have already seen the effect in the shops. The moment the Christmas splurge was over shoppers resisted the annual urge to go out spending all over again in the January sales. As it happened, there was less temptation this year because there were fewer bargains. Shop-keepers had bought cautiously ahead of Christmas so had less stock left over to shift in January.

The West Midlands is one of only three UK regions where National Savings & Investments discerned an increasing number of regular savers this winter and in the percentage of income saved - £84.86 a month or 7.3 per cent of income against a British average of 6.9 per cent.

Against that 42 per cent of West Midlanders don't save regularly at all, slightly fewer than elsewhere in the country, most of them saying they cannot afford to.

T his modest savings revival - plus a seemingly equally modest reluctance to pile up credit card debt - may

be a hopeful omen. Money saved, or used to pay-off borrowing, is money not generating economic activity.

Too much of it applied too suddenly will stall the economy. It is a feature of every recession. Yet people with no savings, or up against their borrowing limits, are in trouble when faced with a crisis, national or personal.

The Bank rejects the argument that the borrowing spree of the last three years has the makings of a disastrous credit crunch.

It argues that while many households are deep in debt - hence record bankruptcies - there are too few of them for their troubles to harm the economy.

The bulk of the debt consists of mortgages, backed by house prices, which held up remarkably when the boom stopped in mid-2004. True, much of the wealth in bricks and mortar, like much of the personal wealth in the stock market, belongs to different people, mostly older than those with the big borrowings.

That has always been so. Otherwise there wouldn't be any banks. ..SUPL: