Traditional finance advice dictates that every family should have enough money saved to cover at least six months of expenses. Some experts even suggest having enough in the bank to cover expenses for a full year, according to Bankrate.com. Despite these recommendations, many American families have relatively little saved or are living without a financial cushion, the website found.
The average savings account balance in the U.S. was $5,923 in 2011, according to a 2012 report by Pitney Bowes, a document-management services company. This represented an increase of just under 3 percent from the $5,753 balance in 2010. New Jersey residents saved the most, with average savings account balances of $7,872, while those in New Mexico had accounts averaging just $4,119, the lowest in the U.S. Savings accounts aren't the only way to sock money away for a rainy day. Pitney Bowes says the average checking account balance in 2011 was $3,100, up from $2,947 in 2010. As with savings accounts, checking account balances were also highest in New Jersey, with an average balance of $4,465. New Mexico residents maintained the lowest checking balances, averaging $2,206.
Bankrate.com reported in 2012 that 28 percent of American families have no savings. Another 20 percent don't have enough saved to cover even three months' worth of living expenses, while just 43 percent have enough in savings to cover three months of expenses. Americans' savings problems don't stop when it comes to retirement savings. The "Chicago Tribune" reports the average 401(k) balance hovers around $74,600, as of 2012, while the average account for those over age 50 is about $130,000. A December 2011 report by "USA Today" reveals that half of all U.S. retirees have less than $25,000 in savings of any kind.
A 2012 report by "Time" magazine offers useful benchmarks to help you decide if you're saving enough. The report suggests that by age 35, you should have a savings balance equal to your yearly salary. By 45, you should have saved three times your annual salary; by 55, your savings balance should equal five times your yearly pay. At retirement, your balance should equal about eight times your salary.
If you're looking to boost your savings, start with an emergency fund. It should contain enough money to cover at least three to six months' worth of expenses. Once you've set up this basic safety net, consider your short- and medium-term savings goals. These may include buying a car or taking a major vacation. Figure out how much you'll need to save each month to meet these goals in the time you have available, then start socking money away in an easy-to-access fund such as your savings account. When it comes to long-term savings and retirement, there's no better strategy than to start young. The earlier you start saving, the more you get to reap the rewards of compound interest, which can significantly boost your savings over time. Take advantage of 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plans; funnel in at least enough money each year to get the employer-matching contribution.
- Pitney Bowes: Savings Account Balances Decline for Residents in Four Electoral Swing States
- Chicago Tribune: The Retirement Savings Crisis
- Bankrate.com: Many Americans Have No Emergency Fund
- The Brookings Institution: United States Savings in a Global Context
- Bankrate.com: Savings Strategies for Different Goals
- Time: What You Should Save By 35, 45, and 55 to Be on Target
Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.