Americans Want to Save More Money. They Just Can’t

While polling shows a desire to save, fewer Americans are actually putting money aside.

National Journal
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Matt Vasilogambros
April 21, 2014, 7:55 a.m.

More Amer­ic­ans than ever say that want to save money and not spend it. But Amer­ic­ans are find­ing it harder to save.

A Gal­lup Poll re­leased Monday shows that 62 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans en­joy sav­ing money, while just 34 per­cent say they prefer spend­ing it. This poll alone shows a sig­ni­fic­ant change in Amer­ic­an con­sumer psy­cho­logy since the Great Re­ces­sion, when the gap between spend­ers and savers grew dra­mat­ic­ally.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s a dif­fer­ence between the de­sires of Amer­ic­ans and the ac­tions of Amer­ic­ans.

The av­er­age per­son­al-sav­ings rate for 2013 was the low­est it’s been since 2007, fall­ing to 4.5 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Com­merce De­part­ment data. That num­ber is low his­tor­ic­ally. Just take the 1970s (11.8 per­cent), the 1980s (9.3 per­cent), and the 1990s (6.7 per­cent).

So, while Amer­ic­ans say they want to save money, they’re not ac­tu­ally do­ing so.

But it’s not like these people are just spend­ing haphaz­ardly, driv­en by a con­sumer-based eco­nomy. They might not save as much as they can out of ne­ces­sity.

As wage growth stag­nates and the eco­nomy is slow to re­cov­er, there’s less op­por­tun­ity for Amer­ic­ans to save their money. An­oth­er Gal­lup sur­vey from Fri­day shows that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans couldn’t go a few months without work be­fore they hit sig­ni­fic­ant fin­an­cial hard­ship.

It seems that Amer­ic­ans want to save. They just can’t.