Despite Recession Worries, Americans Not Bothering to Save: Survey

Survey shows millennials more likely to sacrifice tomorrow for today
A person holds cash

While most Americans are concerned about a potential economic downturn, their fears may be having little influence on their actions, according to a new survey. Specifically, median savings account balances are down 35% from last year—and complacency may be one of the reasons why.

PurePoint Financial, a division of MUFG Union Bank, looked at Americans’ saving habits in its second “State of Savings in America” survey. It found that the median U.S. savings account balance fell in 2018 to $1,500, down from $2,300 in 2017.

But despite the decrease in savings, an overwhelming 88% of Americans are worried that an economic downturn could be on the way. And disturbingly, 80% said they are not confident that they could make it through a recession in the near future—and of those, 60% said they were living paycheck to paycheck.

But while 74% of respondents said they don’t want a future where they have to worry about money, some aren’t being proactive about saving. Among those who reported suffering in the last economic downturn, 44% said they started paying more attention to their finances after the Great Recession, but about 14% said their saving habits didn’t change at all.

Other issues could also be hurting consumers’ savings efforts:

  • 16% said they kept cash in their homes rather than in a high-interest savings account where it could be earning interest. That percentage has risen from 12% in 2017.
  • 73% said they don’t look for the best interest rates for the money that they are putting away.

According to the survey, many Americans—and millennials in particular—are choosing short-term enjoyment over long-term financial security. For example, 43% percent of millennials said they would prefer to have $1,000 today rather than wait to have $3,000 in a year, a choice that suggests that many don’t value the power of investing money so that it can grow over time.

Similarly, half of millennials consider themselves to be “aggressive short-term savers” rather than “long-term habitual savers.”

Such thinking can be short-sighted, however, as many financial experts say long-term habitual saving is the best way to accumulate wealth.

“Not having to worry about money underpins a brighter future for so many of our respondents, but we’re seeing a risky trend throughout the country of prioritizing convenience and instant gratification,” PurePoint Financial President Pierre Habis said in a statement accompanying the survey.

While we can never know for certain when a recession will strike, there are ways to prepare, including by creating a savings cushion for yourself. Try to save consistently, but also save wisely by shopping around for a high-interest savings account that will put your money to work. It’s also worth having a bit of money automatically deposited into your savings account on a regular basis via direct deposit so you don’t have to think about it.

When you have money saved for a rainy day, you’ll sleep better at night no matter what’s going on with the economy.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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