Americans — even affluent ones — just don’t save
Updated: July 25, 2017
We can’t make this work.
More than 1 in 3 American households could easily fall into poverty if they lost their jobs, according to a report released Tuesday by Prosperity Now, an organization that offers research and policy suggestions to help low-income people build wealth. The reason? If they lost their jobs, and had to replace the income they were making with existing savings, they’d be out of luck.
Indeed, the government defines living in poverty as making $6150 or less over three months for a family of four or $3,015 for a single person. But millions of people (36.8% of households) do not have those amounts saved — which means that if they lost their jobs and relied on their meager savings to live on, they’d fall into poverty. (The three months figure is used because that is often how long it takes someone to find a new job.)
This research is just the latest in a series of studies showing how little savings Americans have. Nearly one in five (19%) would not be able to pay their bills within one month of losing their job, according to data released in July from Country Financial. This is especially true of those who are earning less than $30,000 a year – 37% say this would happen to them. And a survey released last month by Bankrate.com found that roughly one in four have nothing at all saved for an emergency; what’s more, 60% of people’s wouldn’t even have enough savings to to pay for a $500 expense.
Understandably, the lack of savings is often particularly acute for those who don’t make much money. More than half of non-retired people who make less than $40,000 a year report that they don’t save anything, according to a study by the Federal Reserve last year. But plenty of people making more than that don’t save either. One in four people who make between $40,000 – $100,000 don’t save and nearly one in 10 who make more than $100,000 don’t.
Experts say skipping saving for emergencies — even if you don’t make much money — is a huge mistake. Marc Lowlicht, the CEO of Opes Private Wealth Management in East Hampton, New York, says people should aim to have enough money in savings to fund six to 12 months of their expenses; if its a household with two working people, six months is okay, if it’s one person working, aim for 12, he explains.
Ilene Davis, the author of “Wealthy by Choice: Choosing your way to a Wealthier Future” — who now, at that age of 67 has saved enough to live comfortably for 50 more years — says that almost anyone can build up savings. It’s “easy actually,” she says. “Commit to it … it’s a choice,” she says: “Virtually anyone can find $5 a day to save if they really want to … even if someone needs to work one evening a week to get extra money.”
You can start small. Lowlicht says that you can aim to save even just $25 a week by cutting little, unnecessary things from your budget like $2 cups of coffee. Look through your bank statements for the past few months and see where little sums of money are going. Are you the kind of person who buys sodas, snacks or subscriptions? Look at what you can reasonably cut.
Don’t neglect big cuts to your budget, either of course. “The feeling one needs to live ‘independently’ to be ‘successful’ often prevents someone from truly being financially independent,” says Davis. Indeed, getting a roommate can easily save you between 30-40% on rent, which could mean hundreds of dollars each month that you put into savings. Other big expenses you can look to trim include the grocery and dining out bills.
This story was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated.
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