9/27/2012 3:05 PM ET|
Why aren't we saving more?
The percentage of Americans who don't have an emergency fund is growing, figures show, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Have Americans already forgotten the lessons learned in the financial crisis? The number of people with no money saved for emergencies has risen to 28%, up from 24% a year ago, according to Bankrate's Financial Security Index.
About 20% of people are slightly better off, with enough savings in an emergency fund to cover less than three months of expenses, while 42% of those polled say they have at least three months' worth of cash saved.
Income and education matter
The rule of thumb calls for saving enough cash to cover six months of living expenses. It depends whom you ask, though. The recession prompted many financial advisers to boost that recommendation to 12 months' worth -- or more.
Not surprisingly, earning more than $75,000 per year vastly increases the odds of hitting the recommendation of six months; 45% of high-income earners say they've reached or surpassed that mark.
Only 9% of those high earners say they have no rainy-day fund, compared with 52% of those earning less than $30,000.
A college degree is also fairly predictive of emergency-fund savings: 41% of college graduates report enough savings to cover expenses for six months or more, versus 14% of those with only a high school education.
Save or pay down debt?
While Americans may be struggling to save money, their collective debt load is smaller than it was several years ago, particularly when it comes to revolving accounts such as credit cards.
Between 2008 and 2010, consumers significantly paid down revolving credit accounts, according to figures from the Federal Reserve's April report on consumer credit.
Rather than stocking household coffers with extra funds, consumers appear to have used extra money to service debt.
"While the debts are down quite significantly on a household basis from prior years' levels and the households are much better off, I believe that this drop in debts came at the expense of savings," says Robert Fuest, the chief operating officer and head of investment research at Landor & Fuest Capital Managers in New York.
Now that debt loads are lighter, the new challenge is to build up savings to avoid falling back into a cycle of debt.
Breaking bad habits
Consumers are constantly barraged by marketing, none of it espousing the ideas of living below your means or managing money responsibly.
"Many Americans used debt to fund about 20% of their lifestyle choices. They were running cash-flow negative, in essence," Fuest says.
- Calculator: Should you make extra debt payments?
Scaling back spending doesn't happen overnight, particularly in a society where the economy is powered by ever-increasing consumer demand.
It can take some time to change the mindset that leads to overspending, but there's an easy shortcut to boosting savings: automation.
"If you have an employer that can split out the amount that you are taking home and force-feed savings into an account that is out of sight and out of mind, I think that is one of the best ways," says Elliot Herman, a partner at PRW Wealth Management in Quincy, Mass.
Or, if your employer doesn't offer the option of splitting your direct deposit, an automatic transfer can be set up from your primary checking account to a savings account on the same day you're paid. The end result is the same; the money is spirited away before it's available for spending.
Where to park your emergency fund
For most people, establishing an emergency fund is a process in which a small pile of savings gradually grows into a larger one.
Keeping emergency savings fairly liquid is important, but once the fund reaches critical mass, savers may want more yield than they can find in a savings account or money market account.
With a sizable pot of money saved, placing a portion into a short-term bond fund could be a good idea, according to Herman.
"I would be wary of some of the higher-yielding short-term bond funds; those could have minefields within them that we don't know about right now. I don't think they're worth the risk. But I think there is something in between those and an ultrasafe savings account that is higher quality and is worth the risk," he says.
Yield should be secondary to liquidity, though. In general, earning a decent return on your savings is less important than simply having funds at the ready.
In the recession, Americans saw "how fast things can change, and they change beyond your control," says Susan Hirshman, the president of consulting firm SHE and the author of "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?"
"The only person responsible for you is you. You really can't rely on anyone," she says.
With millions still out of work, home values still depressed and a fog of uncertainty around government-sponsored safety nets, there should be enough out there to scare people into saving.
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Some aren't saving enough because it is much easier to recoil in defense while spitting fire and acid in the blame game. Paying down debt is a great goal, but it is so important to build and have an emergency fund while you do it - so important. Paying yourself first, making that a regular habit and a top priority will work wonders for your piece of mind and further, it enables you to automatically live below your means. None of this is any way related to government and external forces - all of this relates to your ability to take control of the effect of external forces. Don't waste your time or breath blaming others, responsibility for self sufficiency lies squarely in your hands. It is so much easier to throw your hands in the air and give up when you have nothing to lose - establish an emergency fund and give yourself a worthwhile excuse to fight and keep it alive, well and growing for the benefit of you and your well being.
How many unions held out for more money until their companies couldn't afford them anymore!
I think you need to look at the voting records of you friendly Democrat and scrap the rhetoric about Republicans.
We no longer live in the 1950's. The cost of living has increased to historical highs over the last 20 years. This is a no brainer. Consumption of goods and the demand for luxury living of credit debt per household. Two incomes in the household has not met the social responsibility to save. Bank credit, fiscal abuse by our corrupted politicians, outsourced jobs, medical billing malpractices, labor unions, city and state tax revenues, labeled grocery markets, and the number one reason we cant save---------- FEES and INTEREST by greedy bastards. Remind yourself,,,,,,,
OUR VOTE DOES NOT COUNT......
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