Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly interpreted the BLS data to be average income per adult and average savings per adult, while the correct interpretation is average income per household and average savings per household. We have updated the article.
There are a lot of gloomy headlines out there about how Americans are struggling financially. And while it's true that many workers are not as prepared as they should be (only 28% of Americans are considered to be financially healthy, a report from research company Financial Health Network found), that doesn't mean the average worker isn't setting aside something for the future.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average U.S. household does have extra cash to save, and it's more than you may think.
What the average American saves each year
The average household brings in about $78,635 per year in earnings, the BLS found, or around $67,241 after taxes. Total annual spending comes out to about $61,224, which means the average household has $6,017 left to save each year.
The data doesn't break down any further to see exactly how Americans are saving -- for example, whether their money is going toward their retirement savings, an emergency fund, or the like -- but regardless, $6,000 per year is a good chunk of change. And depending on how you invest that money, you could grow a nest egg worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars if you save $6,000 per year.
That said, it's important to still set saving goals for yourself and your family and double-check that you're doing enough to prepare for them. It's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by saving anything at all, thinking that since saving anything is better than saving nothing, you must be on the right track. But do your best to look at your goals objectively.
For example, although $6,000 per year is a lot of money, it's still less than 10% of the average adult's annual income. Most experts advise saving at least 10% to 15% of your yearly wages for retirement, and you might need to save more than that depending on your long-term goals and how much time you have to reach them. So if you let your guard down thinking that you're going to be fine financially because you're saving several thousands of dollars per year, you risk being blindsided when you retire and realize you don't have enough to live comfortably.
Assessing your goals and creating a long-term strategy
To make sure you're saving enough, map out your goals and then establish a strategy to achieve them.
If you're saving for retirement, start by estimating how much you expect to spend each year once you retire. This number may be more or less than you're spending now, so really think about how your expenses will change in retirement. If you simply wing it here, you might end up saving less than you need.
Next, run your numbers through a retirement calculator to get an idea of how much you should aim to save by retirement age, as well as what you should sock away each month until then. You might find you need to save more than 10% of your income to reach your goals, or if you've been diligently saving for years, you might be right on track.
If you find that you need to supercharge your savings to catch up, you have a few options. You can either comb through your budget to make cuts wherever possible, you can pick up an extra job and put all your earnings toward your savings, or you can adjust your retirement expectations so you can live on less. If you're seriously behind on your savings, you might need to take advantage of more than one of these options to ensure you're as prepared as possible for retirement.
Regardless of how you choose to prepare, it's vital to have some sort of plan. Saving what you can and hoping for the best isn't a viable option, and you may not be able to rely on Social Security benefits as much as you think. Your personal savings will likely need to provide the bulk of your income in retirement, so the more you're able to save, the more comfortable your later years will be.