Americans Want to Save, So Why Aren't They Doing It?

If you believe some 6,100 Americans across the country, we're all about savings. Regardless of household incomes, political affiliations, or age, a new study suggests we'd rather save than spend. So, that means we can ignore all the doom-and-gloom discussions surrounding inadequate retirement and other savings goals, right? Unfortunately, no.

As nice as it sounds to learn we have the best of intentions when it comes to saving, the reality is that our actions don't reflect those supposed intentions. This poses the question: Are U.S. citizens simply saying the "right thing," knowing that they should save? Or are we simply unable to save because of dire personal financial situations?

The data
According to a recent Gallup survey, the number of Americans who prefer saving over spending is (nearly) in direct proportion to income: The less earned, the greater the desire to save. Of the five different income demographics included in the survey, more than 60% of those with household incomes under $50,000 would rather save than spend. The demographic with the strongest savings desire are Americans who earn under $20,000 in annual income, with 66% saying they'd prefer to save rather than spend.

As we move up the income ladder, the line between saving and the joy of spending becomes finer. Among families making more than $75,000 a year, 55% said they'd rather save compared to 43% that prefer spending. The financial crisis, according to Gallup, is the likely catalyst for Americans' urge to save. From 2001 to 2007 -- the years leading up to the 2008 economic nosedive -- the division between buying and saving was less distinct.

Not surprisingly, as Americans get older, the yen to save increases. Interestingly, the responses from those aged 18 to 29 were identical to the responses from those aged 30 to 49, with 58% of both demographics preferring to save and 40% preferring to spend. By the time we hit age 65 and older, Americans' spending really takes a back seat to saving, by a ratio of 31% to 63%.

Based on political affiliations, those who classified themselves as liberals are also liberal with their spending. According to Gallup, 43% of liberals said they'd rather spend, while 54% said they'd rather save. Conservatives, not surprisingly, are on the other side of the spectrum, with 64% preferring to save.

The reality
Young or old, high income or low, liberal or conservative, it seems Americans would rather save than spend -- albeit by varying degrees. That's the good news. The bad news is that reality doesn't match our desire. According to Gallup, 2013 will end as the worst year in the past six -- the year prior to the financial upheaval -- in terms of the overall savings rate as a percentage of disposable income (the money left after paying the necessities, like bills and taxes).

In 2007, slightly more than 50% of Americans said they'd rather spend than save, and many of them did. As a whole, only 3% of disposable incomes were saved in 2007, compared to 4.6% in 2013. Sounds good, right? The problem is that 2013's results are a full percentage point below last year's 5.6% savings pace and down considerably from 2009's 6.1%.

Final Foolish thoughts
It seems that although Americans have the best of intentions when it comes to setting money aside, we have a hard time putting our money where our mouth is. The lowest savings rate in years, coupled with average household credit-card debt of more than $7,100, makes it clear we're doing a lot more spending than saving.

Of course, wanting to save and being able to aren't necessarily the same thing, and the reason for that disparity may lie, at least in part, in recent data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce: As a group, Americans enjoyed an increase of $26.1 billion in personal wages in November. Unfortunately, contributions to government social insurance jumped $3.7 billion last month, and personal taxes increased $14 billion, taking a pretty good chunk of the month's salary and wage hikes off the table.

Whatever the reasons, when it comes to saving, Americans are saying one thing and doing another.

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