5 sad facts about Americans’ savings habits

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Spend less than you earn. It’s not a complicated concept, but in reality, saving is anything but simple. Americans have struggled for years to save adequately for emergencies, retirement and major life events, and that’s still the case, according to a new survey.

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The Consumer Federation of America and the American Savings Education Council coordinated the survey as a part of America Saves Week, which encourages people to make automatic contributions to their savings. This is the survey’s ninth year and it includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,004 American adults. The data comes from interviews conducted by landlines and cellphones from Jan. 28 through Jan. 31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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The leading statistic from the survey: Fewer than half of Americans are making good or excellent progress toward their savings goals. Here are some more details on that dismal status:

1. Just over half of Americans aren’t even saving 5 percent of their income. Only 49 percent reported saving at least 5 percent of their income. For reference, a 10 percent to 15 percent savings rate is often recommended.

2. Only 66 percent reported saving at least some of their income. Think of that from a different angle: About one third of Americans aren’t saving at all.

3. Even fewer have enough money to cover an emergency. Sixty-three percent said they have enough to pay for an unexpected expense like a car repair or visit to the doctor. That puts 37 percent of people in a vulnerable state. Without savings, people may need to turn to expensive financing like high-interest credit cards or payday loans to cover unexpected expenses or a loss of income, which can make their financial situation worse. Alternatively, people without savings may not be able to make all the payments they need to if something disrupts their budget, which can lead to loan default, debt collection accounts and credit score damage.

4. There’s a gender gap in financial well-being. Women fall behind men in 12 areas of financial stability, according to the survey. For example, 72 percent of men report spending less than they make and saving the difference. Only 60 percent of women reported the same habit. About two-thirds — 74 percent — of men said they’re making progress on their savings compared to 67 percent of women, and while only 44 percent of men said that progress was good or excellent, only 36 percent of women gave that assessment.

The difference can be attributed to the persistent wage gap.

“The fact that men have larger incomes and financial assets than women makes it easier for them to save,” Stephen Brobeck, executive director of CFA and a founder of America Saves, said in a press release.

5. Fewer people are saving enough to retire comfortably. In 2015, 55 percent of non-retired adults said they were “saving enough for a retirement in which you will have a desirable standard of living.” This year, that fell to 52 percent, though that’s within the margin of error. Again, there’s a gender gap: 57 percent of non-retired men said they are saving enough, while only 47 percent of their female peers did.

The news release did include a bit of optimism. According to the survey, people who have specific savings goals are much more likely to have good savings habits. A plan may not guarantee you success, but it could help you get to a better financial situation. Here are seven ways to create a savings plan that won’t fizzle.

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