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Americans say they're still struggling to save

The economy has taken a toll, with many in U.S. admitting they are unprepared for the future and have no plan to set aside any of their income.

By MSN Money staff Feb 25, 2014 2:09PM

Image: Piggy bank © Hemera Technologies, AbleStock.com, JupiterimagesBy Sharon Epperson, CNBC


CNBC on MSN MoneyStagnant wages, and prolonged unemployment and underemployment have meant that many Americans continue to struggle to save. Finding it difficult to build wealth through homeownership has also impeded many individuals and families from making progress in meeting their savings needs, according to a national survey released Monday.


The survey found that only about one-third of Americans say they're making "good" or "excellent" savings progress, while nearly two-thirds are making only "fair" or "no" progress.


The survey found the issue for many Americans, regardless of income level, is the ability to spend less than they make and save the difference.


"Only about one-third of Americans are living within their means and think they are prepared for the long-term financial future," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, which commissioned the survey along with the American Savings Education Council (ASEC) and the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).


"One-third are living within their means but are often not prepared for this long-term future," he added. "And one-third are struggling to live within their means."


The survey of more than 1,000 adults was released the first day of America Saves Week, an annual initiative of local, state and national organizations (including many colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations) to promote savings and help people assess their savings status.


Most Americans don't even have a plan of where to start.


Only half of American households have a savings plan with specific goals, and only four out of 10 have a budget that allows for sufficient savings, according to the survey.


But those who have calculated how much they need to save are far more likely to reach their savings goal, according to EBRI president and CEO Dallas Salisbury. Setting up automatic savings for emergencies, college and retirement either through a bank or an employer can help individuals reach their goals, he said.


Lower-income Americans — those with annual household incomes of $25,000 to $50,000 — report having the most difficulty saving, including spending less than their income and saving enough for retirement, according to the survey.


And fewer than two-thirds of people in that group have a sufficient emergency fund, compared with over 80 percent of those who make $50,000 to $100,000. Yet that means nearly 20 percent of higher middle earners don't have enough saved for emergencies, either.


The problem is that one-fifth of higher-income adults fail to spend less than their income and save the difference. While that's less than the 30 percent of lower-income Americans living beyond their means, it is still a significant percentage of people who are better off than most.


Another disturbing statistic comes from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling's Financial Literacy Survey which revealed that 31 percent of consumers have zero non-retirement savings.

"How did you pay for your last emergency? If it was with a credit card, that's a red flag," said Gail Cunningham of the NFCC, an America Saves partner organization. "Americans with no money socked away for the inevitable rainy day are on a slippery slope. When money is tight, it's difficult to think about saving. However, that is when an unplanned expense can be most devastating financially."


Higher-income households often find it just as difficult as those with lower income to earmark money for saving.


"The more people make, the more they spend," Cunningham said. "What we suggest is when you get a raise or bonus pretend it never happened. If you were living just fine before you got it, bank that extra money."


To find out more about America Saves Week and to assess your own savings, go to www.americasavesweek.org.


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81Comments
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How about letting us keep more of our money? Tax us less. Let's turn this around.

What if you're on food stamps and in HUD housing. Let's have them report major purchaes. A new 60" tv? You're off the gov. New 24" wheels for your new car? You're off the gov. Nails done every week? You're off the gov..etc.

People with jobs who support themselves need to be careful with spending and saving, but people living off the gov (Taxpayers) have no business buying these nice things IF they continue to ask for handouts.

Feb 25, 2014 4:09PM
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 I have lived frugally my whole life, there is nothing left to pinch. I go to the bakery thrift store for reduced bread and buns for sanwiches I brownbag and take to work. I only buy the specials at the grocery store. I get my haircut for free by my daughter.  Seldom go out to eat at even a small reasonable neighborhood restaurant, 98% of meals are cooked and eaten at home. Leftovers are frozen and used for meals over a few weeks. I do not drink beer, wine or any alcoholic beverages.The heating temperature is set at 65 degrees and I wear sweaters. Lights are not left on, they are turned off when exiting a room. No cable or internet, I have free antenna TV and I use the computers at the library when I need to use the internet.  Instead of driving my car for errands I ride my bike whenever possible to the local stores, library, bank etc. I mow my own lawn clean away my own snow and do maintenance/cleaning myself around the house. I purchase clothes at thrift stores for everyday use when I can. I could go on, but  there is only so much you can scrimp on and then you reach bottom. My income goes towards rent, utilities, health insurance, rental insurance and car insurance, thought of selling the car but I need it for Dr./Dentist appointments and in it is too far to ride my bike to work. I would save money but increases in the necessities over the past 5 years has siphoned off the extra money I would have saved. I am doing my best not be a burden to anyone but each month it gets harder with stagnant wages. I work full time and pay my bills each month, I don't use credit cards. I can't quit my job, nobody will hire a 59 year old, I'm stuck. If you can save something each month, be grateful, you are one of the lucky ones.
Feb 25, 2014 2:42PM
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You cannot spend more than you make. If that means no cell phone, no cable TV, no lattes. Then so be it. Just because you want it does not mean you NEED it. I've done without most of my life so that I always had something in my pocket if the sh-- hit the fan. Surprising how the more you prepare for something the less likely it is to happen.
Feb 25, 2014 3:36PM
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Get rid of cable tv, you don't need the best and most expensive cell phone plan, cook at home, take a lunch to work, shop for bargains, turn out the lights, turn down the thermostat a bit, drop your home internet speed, 7mb works just fine for streaming movies, put some money aside for charaties and special nights out.  Live below your means.  It takes a lifetime to save a good amout of money, but it can be done.  Good luck!
Feb 25, 2014 2:36PM
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But I bet they are having no trouble with buying cigarettes, booze, a new cell phone, junk food etc....
Feb 25, 2014 5:34PM
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My husband and I kept our spending low. We have a cable/phone/internet bundle because we live in an area with poor cell phone reception and the bundle believe it or not was cheaper. And with internet we spend the $8/month on netflix for our entertainment. Our cell phones are prepaid to keep that monthly expense low and flexible if we get into a pinch we don't have to worry about a contract termination fee. Most meals are eaten at home, lunches are packed too. We are a two car household (both cars are 10 yrs old or more) but again its because of the area we live in is rural making walking/riding a bike out of the question. On the flip side being in a rural area means our housing costs are lower and we have enough land to grow our own produce and even have a chicken or two if we choose. We live within our means with a few luxuries (because yes cable, internet, netflix, and cell phones are luxuries). We manage to save a little each month towards a rainy day nest egg. However the cost of the now required healthcare is going to cost virtually everything we had been saving each month with the cheapest plan that has an extremely high deductible. Which means as much as I don't want too we will have to cut out those luxuries to be able to cover the cost of healthcare and continue to save. We watch our money very closely and just recently opted for internet and cable after my husband got a promotion and decided it would be nice to have the luxury. I have been looking for a higher paying job or even one with good but less expensive benefits there isn't an abundance in my area. And a further commute means more expenses but we love were we live... And it is frustrating because I know several people receiving government aid that have new cars, new iPhones, new clothes, and manage to go out every weekend. Perhaps I'm more envious of the lack of discipline to save on their part but it would be nice to see the middle class see the benefit of their work.
Feb 25, 2014 7:15PM
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Yes I realize we need a savings account, but the truth of the matter is it is all I can do to keep up with day to day living expenses. Between housing, food, utilities, medical and life  insurance there isn't anything left. We don't eat out or buy Starbucks coffee or smoke or drink. I am not lazy and am educated. I am a cancer survivor and I work 2 jobs. Don't get help from our government either. So unless our stupid politicians bring back good paying jobs instead of sending everything to other countries, I can plan on working till the Lord takes me home.
Feb 25, 2014 5:56PM
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You had me right up until the "when you get a raise" part and then I realized this is a work of fiction. ;)
Feb 25, 2014 4:37PM
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People are struggling because of taxes, extra costs forced on them (ACA), and less full-time jobs being offered.  Also lack of education and people buying stuff they can't afford does not help, but I would say our economy and political policies that have been put in place over the last 5 years are screwing people.
Feb 25, 2014 3:45PM
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Read the comments.  Half just don't get it.  (47%) You can't save when you spend more than you can afford.  Get a second job, get rid of the smart phones for your 8 year old, cut cable, drive an older used car.  There are many ways to cut costs.  You just need the discipline.

Feb 25, 2014 3:32PM
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It's impossible to save what you don't have.
Feb 25, 2014 4:41PM
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Plenty of change, but no hope. Sounds like we're halfway there.
Feb 25, 2014 5:19PM
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My husband and I are fortunate as we have money to save. We do have months were it seems close to not being able to save, but we manage. I worry for my kids though. The future is not bright for them and the rest of the kids in this country. Obama is a wrecking ball. He has wrecked the future of this country.
Feb 25, 2014 5:52PM
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Save? That is the last thing the government and big business wants you to do. "The paradox of Thrift" --- what might be good for the individual is not good for the economy. If we all started saving, 70% of the economy would suffer since 70 % of the USA  GDP is consumer spending. Everything in the US society today screams at you to buy this nugget, buy that useless piece of plastic, buy this car and your chance of getting laid will go up, etc. etc. etc. Is it any wonder the Walton's went off the air the same time Dallas came on?
Feb 25, 2014 4:40PM
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Even if you don't buy booze, cigs, eat out three times a day, buy a latte every day at $7, buy clothes every month, go to a movie every weekend, you still will not be able to save any money because the government will find a way to steal it.
Feb 25, 2014 4:34PM
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People have a preternatural ability to defend there spending habits, no matter how destructive they may be. Remember; a dollar saved when 18 years old will be 20 dollars at 65. It is wise to develop a saving ethic, and continue it for a lifetime. 
Feb 25, 2014 7:29PM
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A dozen years ago, I earned half decent  interest on my  money mkt account. Now I'm lucky if I earn in a year what I used to earn in a month.  Now  there are fees for things that used to be free too.  I grew up poor and can pinch a penny  til it screams,but even back then I could earn 5% on a passbook savings account, plus they gave me a free gift for opening the account.  I got green stamps at the gas station, plus a mug and a free oil check.  There were even free items inside boxes or attached to them at the supermarket.  You don't see any of that now.  Dented cans at the supermarket were reduced in price.  It's really hard to save, but I still try.
Feb 25, 2014 5:45PM
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Too many Parasitic Democrats, not enough Republican Hosts...

Sorry, we have to many leeches.  The 47% pay no income taxes.   They feed off the middle class that continues to lose income as the democrats confiscate more and more of their paychecks to give to their parasites that vote for a living.

We will have to wait until the 9th annual "Recovery Summer" (when Obama is gone) before there can be any economic recovery from Obamanomics...
Feb 25, 2014 2:28PM
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Yet the big idea from Obummer is MyRa......... Save what? Where are the jobs?

Feb 25, 2014 3:15PM
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With wages still stuck in the early '80's, I wonder why. With Fortune 500 companies sitting on trillions it's nothing but flat out greed. They would much rather keep creating jobs in Mexico and China than pay Americans a living wage. As long as people buy into the bull$hit of 'right to work', get rid of the minimum wage, end all unions, Etc, don't look for it to get better anytime too soon.
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