While the pandemic has created many economic hardships, one silver lining has been a significant increase in personal savings.
According to data from the US Department of Commerce, personal savings totaled almost $4.7 trillion in the second quarter of 2020, an increase of more than $3 trillion over the first quarter. That translates into a personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income rate of 25.7 percent in the second quarter compared to a rate of 9.5 percent in the first quarter. When the personal savings rate reached 33 percent in April, it was the highest since the US government began tracking it in the 1960s.
The jump in savings can be attributed to several factors related to the pandemic. People have been hoarding cash as an uncertain future looms. As a result, consumers are buying less, traveling less, and going out less.
The country’s financial outlook remains grim, however, as the United States continue to report record job losses and unemployment rates. Personal finance experts recommend that Americans continue to save as a financial safeguard. Indeed, a recent survey from Bankrate showed that about 55 percent of Americans regret not having enough emergency savings.
What is an emergency fund?
Contrary to common belief, a one-year emergency fund isn’t the equivalent of one year’s worth of earnings—a daunting savings goal. Instead, you can calculate a more realistic emergency fund goal by looking at your minimum expenses.
If you are in a position where you need to draw on emergency savings, you likely will only be paying vital bills such as your mortgage or rent, food, and utilities. Likewise, to figure out your desired emergency savings, consider how much money you need to survive. Add up only your necessary bills for a year—the total should be significantly less than your annual income. An emergency fund based on this calculation should be a much more attainable goal.
Buckling Down on Savings
As you grow your emergency fund, consider two primary strategies. The first is to spend less, and the second is to earn more. You may want to jumpstart your savings fund by getting a second job. In today’s gig economy, for example, you could earn extra money as a delivery driver or pick up shifts at a local essential business such as a grocery store.
Here are some other strategies that may help you to save more.
Automate your savings.
Researching which high-yield savings plan is best can be a waste of time, as slight differences in interest rates won’t result in a significantly higher yield. Instead, financial experts recommend setting up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck into your emergency savings account. This strategy guarantees a monthly contribution and removes the temptation to spend the money instead of having to remember to manually deposit it into your savings account.
Automation places systems over human willpower, which can be faulty and forgetful. Automated monthly deposits create a steady flow of savings into your emergency account.
Watch the news.
The federal government continues to make decisions about how to help Americans weather the financial crisis that could impact your savings. While no legislation has been passed yet, government officials have suggested that a second $1,200 stimulus check may be sent to all eligible Americans. The amount each family unit will receive depends on factors such as income and number of dependents.
If you don’t need the entire stimulus check amount to pay urgent bills, consider investing the check in your emergency savings account. This strategy won’t provide the immediate gratification of a shopping spree, but if you find yourself in a dire financial situation, the savings will pay off.
If you haven’t paid your federal taxes, be sure to do that as soon as possible, since the IRS has stated that unfiled taxes could impact your stimulus check. When you do fill out your taxes, include your direct-deposit information—this ensures that the IRS can deliver the any stimulus checks straight to you.
Watch your spending.
Adapting your budget to a stay-at-home lifestyle could reveal several areas of significant savings. For example, working from home should significantly cut fuel or commuting costs. You may even be able to reduce your auto insurance coverage.
You probably won’t need as many new clothes or shoes. If you’re avoiding indoor gatherings, you’ll no longer spend money on movies, bars, concerts, theater, or other forms of out-of-the-house entertainment.
Taking a close look at your monthly subscriptions also could uncover savings. Look at every recurring bill and examine whether you really need it. Are some subscriptions redundant, such as the four streaming services you pay for? Paring down these monthly expenditures can reap significant savings.
Reducing your spending could open up hundreds of dollars in your monthly budget that can be reallocated for savings—and you may find the pandemic pushes you into a simpler, cheaper lifestyle you’ll continue even after the world reopens.