Hands With Money

Photo: Steven Depolo.

Americans do a pretty poor job of saving their money, both in terms of retirement savings and saving for rainy-day expenses. The extent of the problem may surprise you -- just take a look at some of the statistics.

Bad saving habits
As a whole, Americans simply don't like to save money for any reason. Some people have legitimate reasons for not saving much -- for example, using extra cash to pay down credit card debt or student loans. However, others simply love to go out to eat, buy new clothes, and do other expensive activities a lot more than they should.

Whatever the reasons, our savings habits are just bad. The statistics don't paint a pretty picture:

  • 42% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck., including 25% of those earning more than $100,000 per year.
  • 29% of American workers have less than $1,000 in savings.
  • Half have less than one month's income saved.
  • The personal savings rate in 2014 was just 4.4%, meaning that out of every $1,000 earned, the average American spent all but $44.
  • Millennials have a savings rate of negative 2%, thanks to factors like high student loan debt and skyrocketing rent prices.
  • Approximately 10 million U.S. households have no bank account whatsoever.

But we sure love to spend
Many people's excuses for not saving include things like, "I haven't gotten a raise in years, while my cost of living keeps going up." This may be true in a lot of cases, but a major reason we're not saving is simply because we love to spend our money.

  • The average American household has total debt of $117,951.
  • There are nearly 1.9 billion active credit card accounts in the U.S., split among 199.8 million cardholders. That's nearly 10 per consumer. Keep in mind that this figure includes corporate credit cards, as well as personal.
  • Total U.S. credit card debt is $793.1 billion.
  • Americans spent $70 billion playing the lottery in 2014. That's about $300 per adult.

Emergency fund? What's that?
Experts say that you should have six months' worth of living expenses in a readily accessible emergency fund. And this may be a lot more than you think. While six months is an ideal emergency fund, many people don't even have a fraction of that amount.

  • 52% of Americans couldn't cover a $400 unforeseen expense without borrowing the money or selling something.
  • Only 17% of the population has an emergency fund that could last for three to five months.
  • 2.5 million Americans took out car title loans in 2014 to cover expenses -- one of the worst types of debt there is.

The retirement crisis is real
Social Security is by no means enough to support a reasonable quality of life after retirement, yet too many Americans are failing to set anything aside for their future. As a general rule, you should anticipate that you'll need 80% of your pre-retirement income in order to maintain your lifestyle into your golden years; if you make $100,000 per year now, you'll need $80,000 per year from Social Security and your savings. As you can see, most Americans are not even close to this benchmark.

  • Only 18% of Americans are "very confident" they'll have enough saved for retirement.
  • In order to withdraw $5,000 per month for 30 years, you'll need to have $1,060,751 in retirement savings, assuming 6% annual investment returns and 2% inflation.
  • In contrast to the previous statistic, the average 50-year-old has just $42,797 saved.
  • 36% of Americans are not saving at all for retirement.
  • 93% of American workers have access to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan.
  • But only 67% contribute enough to their 401(k) to take full advantage of their employer's matching contributions.
  • If you wait to start saving until you're 45, you'll need to set aside three times as much each month to retire comfortably as someone who started at 25.

Do something about it
If one or more of these statistics describes you, now is as good a time as any to do something about it. Start small. For example, contribute $50 per paycheck to an emergency fund or savings account until you have a decent cushion. Or maybe increase your 401(k) contributions by just 1% of your salary each year until you're on pace to build the retirement nest egg you need. You may be surprised how much of an impact just a small increase can have.

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