What I'm about to say probably won't come a surprise to many of you, but Americans, relative to other developed counties, are really poor savers.
Americans are really bad when it comes to saving money
According to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the seasonally-adjusted annual rate of personal saving was just 3.8% in June 2017. By comparison, Americans were socking away 11.7% of their earned income exactly 50 years ago in June 1967. This is precisely where most people should be, with financial advisers recommending workers save between 10% and 15% of earned income. Comparatively, developed countries like France and Germany have notably higher personal saving rates.
America's poor saving rates are particularly worrisome for two reasons. First, we're steadily living longer than ever as a result of improved health education, more effective medicines, and growing access to medical care. Conceivably, we may work longer. But it also suggests that we could be enjoying 20 or more years in retirement -- and you don't want to outlive your money. Since 1960, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from about 70 years to nearly 79 years, as of 2015.
The second concern is that workers aren't giving themselves much in the way for a margin of error with what they do save. If Americans are only putting away $3.80 of every $100 they earn, they're going to need superior returns in the stock market and other investment vehicles year in and year out if they hope to have enough cash to retire comfortably. Of course, even this is suspect given that a 2016 Gallup poll found only 52% of adults are invested in the stock market, tying an all-time low.
Poor saving habits could lead to a heavy reliance on Social Security, which is in itself in a precarious position. Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustments have been lower than medical care inflation in 33 of the past 35 years (not counting 2017), and Social Security itself is on track to exhaust its nearly $3 trillion in asset reserves by 2034. In order for the program to remain solvent through 2091, an across-the-board benefits cut of up 23% may be needed.
Long story short, if you aren't saving wisely, you could be in big trouble during your golden years.
Say what? Look who's saving extra money for retirement in 2017
Now here's the good news: According to Bankrate, some groups are actually stepping up their saving rate in 2017. The latest Bankrate Financial Security Index survey found that 23% of adults have ramped up their retirement saving during the past 12 months, compared to 21% of adults who said the same thing last year. In six years of polling, this was the highest increase in year-over-year savings recorded.
What's even more impressive is who led the charge. Millennials, who are traditionally described as being between ages 18 and 36, saw the biggest increase in year-over-year saving improvement. As a whole, 27% of millennials are increasing what they're putting away for retirement in 2017, up from 20% in 2016. Bankrate points out that the younger millennials, those aged 18 to 26, were the most likely to be saving more (30%) from the previous year of any age group surveyed.
Baby boomers were no slouches, either. Last year, just 16% noted that they were saving more than the previous year; but in 2017, 21% noted that they were saving more. Yes, this is still below the average across all respondents for 2017 in the survey, but it's a remarkable improvement for a group of folks who are expected to be pretty reliant on Social Security income during retirement.
Why the sudden saving-rate boost from millennials and baby boomers? Solid economic growth and a low unemployment rate look to be the culprits. Put plainly, people are feeling more comfortable about the economy and their jobs, which is allowing them to put more of their hard-earned money into investments for retirement.
Of course, there's always a finger-wag-worthy group, and fellow Gen-X'ers, you're it. Just 20% of Generation X's respondents affirmed that they were saving more for retirement in 2017, which is down from 27% in 2016. It's unclear if there's a single reason for the year-over-year drop, but with aggregate credit card debt rising over the $1 trillion mark recently, I wouldn't overlook the idea of rising debts and/or bills sapping Generation X's wallets as the culprit.
Four ways you can save more right now
Let's face the facts: Americans need to save more if they're going to have any chance of retiring comfortably and not outliving their nest egg. In order to do that, a few things need to change.
To begin with, more households need to be working with a detailed monthly budget. A 2013 Gallup poll found that a mere 32% of households were working with a detailed monthly budget. Without a budget it's practically impossible to understand your cash flow -- and without this understanding it's difficult to optimally adjust your spending and saving habits. Thankfully, budgeting software can be found online these days, which also mean it takes the hard work (i.e., math) out of the equation. Given the right data, budgeting software can also help you formulate a saving plan so you can reach your goals.
Another smart idea to boost your saving rate is to set up automatic withdrawals from a checking or saving account, or directly from your paycheck, on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. Having money automatically withdrawn and placed into a retirement or investment account should help to keep your spending in check. More importantly, it removes the always popular "I forgot," or "I'll get around to it later," excuses.
A third trick to help sock away more money is to reduce your reliance on credit cards. Putting a purchase on a credit card may be convenient, but it's also intangible. If you're forced to use cash to purchase goods and services, you'll deal with a tangible loss of value by handing that cash over to someone else. This is a good way to reduce impulse purchases.
Lastly, try to get everyone under your roof on the same page. You're far more likely to be a successful saver if everyone in your households is also living by a budget, too. If you live alone, consider meeting up with a group of like-minded people once or twice a month to discuss your progress and challenges.
Saving more doesn't have to be a chore if you take some simple proactive steps.