A survey released by Chase today concluded that 74 percent of Americans are concerned about having enough money in savings, but only 34 percent have increased their savings since the economic downturn. There’s more to the survey, but this fact alone raises more than enough questions to consider for an entire day.
What does it mean to be concerned about something? I am concerned about having enough money in savings. Right now, however, I am fortunate that I wouldn’t consider this a primary concern. I’m concerned about keeping what I have without losing the bulk to bad investment choices. I’m not talking about the volatility of the stock market; my concern is putting my wealth into anything — a house, a business, or some other investment — that turns out to be a poor choice. The stock market will probably be fine in the long-term if I stick to broad mutual funds.
My situation today might not be like most people’s situations. Successful professionals secure in their career might be concerned about having enough money in savings, but have established an emergency fund to take some pressure away from potential financial setbacks. They may have home equity they can tap in some cases, or they might be in a situation where they have a number of job opportunities. On a survey, they might say they’re concerned about having enough money in savings, but their concern might not be retirement or upcoming financial independence, but having enough savings to give their kids opportunities to gain a college education without the distraction of forcing them to work while their attention should be on studies and without the need for burdensome student loans.
For the working poor or those in poverty, there is sure to be a concern about having enough money in savings, but the concern may be from a survival perspective. Living paycheck-to-paycheck or worse will never present a great opportunity to carry wealth, not just from one generation to the next, but from one month to the next. Saving money is or should be a major concern, but especially in an economic downturn, there might not be an opportunity to add to savings.
Chase is pointing out that 78 percent of Americans are concerned about having enough money in savings, and contrasting this with the fact that only 36 percent of consumers have put more money into savings since the economic downturn. “Enough” is a vague word, and means different things to different people. The question, “Are you concerned about having enough money in savings?” begs for an answer of yes. Who would not be concerned with having enough money in savings? From the dirt poor to the fantastically rich, everyone wants to have enough or more. It’s surprising that only 78 percent answered this question positively; I imagine there’s a minority of Americans who are either flush with enough cash in savings to meet all the goals they have for their lives.
It’s not surprising that only more than a third of consumers have added to savings since the recession. For many Americans, the downturn took away opportunities to add to savings. It may not be impossible for someone who has been out of work for a long time or who is underwater on their mortgage to put aside extra money. With banks offering less than one percent interest on savings accounts, who is to blame anyone for avoiding saving?
While the contrast of the two statistics provokes the initial response of, “Those who are truly concerned about savings should do something about it,” it’s not always that straightforward. I can be concerned about an issue without looking for a personal resolution. I’ve been concerned about my fitness since college, but I’ve only worked to stay in shape on an occasional basis. A lack of motivation is the culprit, and that’s certainly the case for many people who are concerned about saving money but who take no action to improve their financial condition. Fitness, of course, is a different story. I have no excuse; those who are struggling to afford food week to week have a more difficult time trying to save than I will ever have trying to exercise.
If you are in a position where you have no excuse not to improve your financial condition, then it should certainly be more than just a concern.
A survey like this would need to be more specific. I haven’t seen the underlying data, so perhaps the announcement is focusing on the superficial headlines. What kind of savings are you concerned about? Having enough money left over after paying for necessary expenses to build wealth, even slowly, from one paycheck to the next? Having enough money in savings to retire or find financial freedom? Having enough money in savings so your family never needs to worry about money? Having a big enough savings and investing accounts so you have the opportunity to share your wealth with those whose missions are to make the world a better place?
What is your level of concern? Are you concerned because you need to increase your savings to survive? Are you concerned because you want to reach your goals? Are you concerned because people are suffering across the world? How far are you willing to let your concern take you? Will you scrimp another 2 percent off your meager salary? Would you forgo one night out at the Olive Garden? Will you get a second job? Will you add another percentage point to your 401(k) contribution?
How concerned are you about having enough money in savings, and has that concern motivated you to make any changes?
Published or updated September 18, 2012.