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Americans Feel Better About Their Savings -- but They Shouldn't

By Christy Bieber – Apr 17, 2017 at 1:06PM

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Americans report feeling better about their savings than they did last year, but are we actually saving enough?

You need to save money. It's the most basic and important financial advice you'll ever hear. Whether you're saving up for a rainy day, a down payment on a home, or retirement, there are plenty of good reasons why we should all be stashing some cash.

So how are Americans doing when it comes to putting that advice into practice? It turns out many people think they're doing better with saving this year -- but on the whole, we're not putting aside nearly enough money to accomplish important savings goals. 

Bucket of cash

Image source: Getty Images.

Americans are feeling better about their savings, but not doing better

A survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on behalf of Bankrate found Americans' Financial Security Index was at a record high in March of 2017. 

Americans reported increased satisfaction with both their net worth and their savings. In fact, for the first time in more than six years of polling, a higher percentage of Americans described feeling comfortable with their savings, rather than uncomfortable. While 27% of respondents in the 2016 survey said they were "uncomfortable" with their savings, just 19% reported discomfort this year. In prior polling, the respondents feeling uncomfortable always outnumbered those who felt more comfortable.

Unfortunately, feeling better about saving and actually being better at saving aren't the same thing. Only 48% of Americans are actually saving any money at all, and 25% are saving only 1%-5% of their incomes. Only 25% reported socking away in excess of 10% of their incomes this year, which is still less than the minimum recommended by most financial experts.

How can Americans boost their savings?

Not saving enough can create major problems, both now and in the future. While increasing your savings rate can be a challenge, these tips can help.

Automate the process
One in six survey respondents said they weren't saving more simply because they hadn't gotten around to it. But saving shouldn't be difficult. The fastest way to start saving is to set up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck into your retirement savings account -- namely, your 401(k) if you have one, or an IRA if you don't. Services like Betterment allow you to set up an IRA with just a few clicks and use RoboAdvisors to automate the investing process at a low fee. Answer a few simple questions about your investing profile and everything else is done for you. Once you've got savings automated for retirement, consider setting up an automatic transfer of a small amount of money each payday into a high-interest savings account for emergencies or long-term goals. 

Look for ways to cut expenses
Over a third of survey respondents cited high expenses as the reason they weren't saving. You can -- and should -- create a full budget to see where your money is going and find ways to reduce what you spend. If you aren't ready to make a budget, look over credit card statements and bank transactions to see what you can cut. Cancel a gym membership you aren't using, start packing your lunch instead of eating out, or make your coffee at home. Whatever the value of the expenses you're cutting, transfer that money on a weekly basis right into savings.

Take advantage of savings apps
Digit is an app that analyzes your spending, calculates what you can save, and transfers money automatically out of your checking account and into savings. Unfortunately, Digit is now charging a $2.99 monthly fee, although they're offering a bonus for larger savers. If you keep at least $3,600 in your account, you'll break even on the fee, and the features of the service may still be worthwhile.

There are also alternatives including Qapital, which allows you to create your own rules for automatic savings, like transferring money to savings whenever you shop at a certain store. Acorns rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and invests the difference automatically in index-tracking exchange-traded funds. Acorn charges $1 per month, or 0.25% annually if you have more than $5,000 saved.

Start small
If necessary, start saving just 1% of your income. Gradually increase the amount you save and, if you get a raise or a bonus, automatically divert some or all of your extra pay to savings goals before getting used to the extra income. 

Saving is possible for many families and individuals, especially those who aren't saving just because they haven't made the time. If you make saving automatic and pay yourself first, you'll actually have a very good reason to be confident about your savings rate this year.  

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