While there’s no magic number as to the amount of money someone should have in savings, experts agree that at least having an emergency fund — anywhere from 3-to-9 months of expenses — in savings is imperative. One rule of thumb is to follow the 50/30/20 budgeting method by allocating 50% of one’s income for needs, 30% for wants and 20% for savings.
But whatever the rules, one thing is clear: Americans who do save are saving more than they used to. Northwestern Mutual’s 2021 Planning & Progress Study revealed Americans’ average personal savings accounts grew 10% between 2020 and 2021, from $65,900 to $73,100, which doesn’t include investments. And according to data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances by the US Federal Reserve, the most recent year for which they polled participants, Americans have a weighted average savings account balance of $41,600 which includes checking, savings, money market and prepaid debit cards, while the median was only $5,300. During the pandemic, Americans’ savings soared above normal levels according to data from Moody’s Analytics, a phenomenon economists call excess savings. Specifically, Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) reveals that in April 2020, the personal savings rate increased 25.5% from just two months prior.
Of course, these data points only reflect Americans who actually have savings socked away. The reality is that many people still have no savings, or very little: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans didn’t save any money in 2021, according to recent data from the latest MagnifyMoney Savings Index. And 18% of respondents admittedly contributed zero dollars to their savings last year and another 48% contributed fewer than $5,000. Bankrate’s July 2021 Emergency Savings Survey revealed that a quarter of Americans have no emergency fund at all and just 1 in 6 households report having more savings now than prior to the pandemic.
If you’re feeling far behind about your savings, be patient. Pros say you should start small — don’t expect to pile up savings overnight. It may take many years of diligent saving to get to the point where your emergency cushion is built up to handle six months of expenses and you’re ready to focus saving for longer-term goals like retirement or your kids’ college funds, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. Start by saving one month’s worth of expenses and go from there.
Beyond that, “you should also consider additional savings goals, such as saving for a downpayment on a house or saving for a special vacation. The funds for these goals can be put in separate sub accounts so that they’re not mixed in with money that’s set aside in an emergency fund,” says Chanelle Bessette, banking specialist at NerdWallet. Certified financial planner Elaine King Fuentes adds, “It would be ideal to have liberty and to be able to do anything you want for at least one year.”
One big no-no when it comes to savings: Putting it in an account that pays little (the average savings account is only paying 0.06% now). Just 21% of Americans say they kept their savings in a high-yield savings account that pays better APYs in 2021, while 45% reported using a regular savings account according to a survey conducted by NextAdvisor.
But accounts with higher APYs do exist. In fact, as of the writing of this story, LendingClub was offering interest of 0.65% with a $2,500 minimum balance, Marcus by Goldman Sachs has savings accounts with 0.50% and no minimum balance, Alliant’s current APY is 0.55% with $5 minimum balance, and Comenity Direct’s APY is 0.60% with a $100 minimum balance.