Americans were saving record amounts. Here’s why they aren’t now

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Many Americans improved their financial habits during the pandemic by cutting expenses and paying down debt, but those habits are slipping in 2022, according to research from Northwestern Mutual.

The 2022 Planning and Progress Study, conducted in February by The Harris Poll on behalf of Northwestern Mutual, surveyed 2,381 adults. Over half — 60% of respondents — said the pandemic was highly disruptive to the way they manage their finances, but many have been able to adapt. A majority (60%) said they’ve built up their personal savings over the past two years.

That buildup may be short-lived.

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The average amount of personal savings fell 15% year over year, from $73,000 in 2021 to $62,000 in 2022. In 2021, many said they reduced living costs/spending (45%), paid down debt (34%), and increased investing (33%), but the percentage of people reporting these habits dropped in 2022.

Worries about their health and the state of the world may have led people to adopt more rigorous savings habits in the early part of the pandemic, says Christian Mitchell, chief customer officer for Northwestern Mutual. “They frankly had fewer things to spend money on, which helped improve their financial picture,” he says.

 

The pandemic also gave people time to reassess their financial habits.

“They were sitting at home and they took the tough moment to clean out their cluttered financial basement and get things in order,” he says.

Why are people saving less money now?

As the pandemic drags into its third year, some Americans are taking a more carefree attitude toward their finances. Economic conditions are also making it difficult to save, with inflation forcing people to spend more.

“For a group of people, you’re actually likely to see pretty major degradation around the discipline they see around their financial picture,” Mitchell says.

How do people feel about their future finances?

The survey found people feeling pessimistic about the economy. Only 43% said the U.S. economy is strong, and just 35% expect inflation to subside in 2022. Over the next year, Mitchell expects those numbers will grow.

But despite these worries, people feel confident in their personal ability to manage their finances. Two thirds — 66% — said they have or will achieve long-term financial security, and 60% expect to have enough to retire. Mitchell says surviving the pandemic has made people optimistic, though the deteriorating economy may show their confidence is misplaced, but “I think we all surprised ourselves through COVID with our resilience, our adaptability,” he says.

The biggest factor going forward will be inflation. The Federal Reserve’s success in controlling prices while trying to avoid a recession will loom large over next year’s survey, especially since many people today have never lived through a similar period of high inflation.

How to improve your financial habits

The survey shows how complex managing money has become. In just two years, America has experienced a pandemic and runaway inflation.

“I don’t think any consumer is well positioned to be able to navigate all those possible future scenarios, so the strong piece of advice I give people is to work with a financial advisor,” Mitchell says. He acknowledges that this might be seen as self-serving, since Northwestern Mutual provides financial advice, but he says people have plenty of options. For example, you can find a financial advisor using services like the XY Planning Network or the Garrett Planning Network.

You can also take a few steps on your own to set yourself up for success.

1. Set goals

“If you have no target you cannot make measurable progress,” says Kirsten C. Cadden, a certified financial planner with Warren Street Wealth Advisors. Your goals should include specific amounts, like “retire by 65 with enough saved to spend 80% of your current income every year.” They should also include a “why.” “If someone writes down their financial goals and they don’t sound exciting or fulfilling or meaningful in some way,” Cadden says, “they should definitely go deeper and ask, ‘Why did I write this as a goal? Is this what I really want?’”

2. Automate your savings

Set up an automatic transfer into your savings and investment accounts that takes place every  month, or every paycheck.

3. Put savings and investing first

Treat savings and investing as a fixed expense in your budget, Cadden says. “Rather than budgeting for all the bills and expenses and then seeing what is left for savings, treat saving like a bill you owe yourself and pay it first.”

4. Start where you can

“The goal may be to put 15% or 20% in your 401(k), but if all you can feasibly do right now is 2% or 3% then start there,” Cadden says. Without at least starting these habits, it can be easy to push off saving and investing, especially when times get tough. “Small progress is better than waiting for perfection. Wherever you can start is the right place to start.”

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

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51 smart ways to up your savings game

 

Everywhere you spend money, there are opportunities to save, and most take very little effort on your part.

Saving money doesn’t mean sacrificing everything you enjoy, nor does it require you to spend hours clipping coupons. If you’re looking for easy ways to lower your bills and pocket more of your income, you’ll find a variety of simple ways to establish healthy habits and work toward your financial goals.

Small expenses add up fast, but the opposite is true as well; finding areas to trim your budget, even by just a few dollars here and there, can lead to a lot of extra pocket change at the end of the month. And the more you can stash away, the better prepared you’ll be for future emergencies and retirement.

Next: How to save money on utility bills

Related: 7 brilliant moves to thrive in an uncertain economy

 

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Many utility companies offer you a discount for paying your bill online and receiving paperless statements.

 

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An energy audit can lead to energy-efficient improvements that could potentially save you more than $1,000 per year.

 

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You can save up to 10% on your energy bill each year if you turn back the thermostat seven to 10 degrees for eight hours each day. Be sure to adjust the temperature before you leave and wear appropriate clothing while indoors. Purchasing a smart thermostat can help you save money on utilities as well.

 

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You can save $75 per year on your electric bill just by installing Energy Star light bulbs.

 

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If you weatherstrip your double-hung windows, you could save $42 to $83 per year.

 

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And consider purchasing blackout curtains. The more you insulate your home, the more you’ll save on heating and cooling costs.

 

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Arcadia Power matches you with renewable energy through your current power lines, so there’s no installation cost, and you can actually save money on your energy bill.

Next: How to save on your cell phone bill

 

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Prices for service vary so be sure to compare monthly rates across providers for the service you need.

 

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Sharing a plan with your family, friends, or roommates can help you save on your monthly cell phone bill.

 

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Understand the data caps associated with your plan and be careful not to incur any additional fees.

 

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It can be tempting to snag the newest cell phone as soon as it hits the market, but you’ll save money by sticking with your old phone for a couple more years.

 

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There are some companies that will negotiate your bills for you and take a cut of your savings. For example, the Truebill app saves users money by canceling unused subscriptions and negotiating rates with providers.

Next: How to save on your cable bill

 

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With all of the streaming services out there, including some that are free, you don’t need cable TV to stay entertained. You can save a significant chunk of change by switching to an internet-only plan.

 

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Most internet service providers would rather extend your introductory rate than lose your business to another company. It’s a good idea to call when your contract is almost up, and again annually, to see whether you can secure a lower rate.

 

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Choose a less expensive package with fewer channels or get rid of your DVR and use a streaming service instead.

 

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Some companies will let you bundle internet, cell phone service and cable for one low price. Take advantage of these opportunities to save, but only if you’ll use all of the services included.

Next: How to save money on insurance

 

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With so many options for insurance, it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting the best deal. Using a comparison tool such as Provide Insurance allows you to see personalized insurance rates side-by-side, so you can snag the lowest offer. Users save up to $610 on their annual premiums.

 

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Do you still need the amount of insurance coverage you originally signed up for? Perhaps you paid off your mortgage so you no longer need as much life insurance coverage, or you’re not driving currently so you don’t need comprehensive car insurance coverage. Reducing your coverage can save you money.

 

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You may be able to install a telematics device and get discounts for safe driving or bundle your home and auto insurance policies to save money that way. Call your insurance agent to see whether you’re eligible for any discounts.

 

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Most insurance plans cover an annual primary care visit. Be sure to get a checkup and also see a doctor right away if a problem arises. This can save you money on healthcare costs in the long run.

 

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Not only will you save a ton of money, but you can also reduce your health insurance and life insurance premiums.

 

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Several of the best life insurance providers offer surprisingly low rates. Compare quotes with online insurers to find an affordable option.

Next: How to save money on groceries and essential items

 

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It’s easy to get distracted by non-essential purchases and leave the store with a year’s supply of cheese. Don’t let it happen to you. Make a list of the items you need based on the recipes you have planned — and don’t stray.

 

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In the U.S., between 30% and 40% of their food supply gets wasted. You can do your part to reduce food waste by using all of the items you buy. You can use a tool like Fridge, Table, or Supercook to find recipes based on the ingredients you have at home.

 

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Assuming you have the storage space, always buy the larger package of dry goods and cleaning supplies, and buy bulk fresh food you know you’ll use as well.

 

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In most cases, store-brand items offer the same quality at a lower cost. Avoiding brand-name buys can help you save a lot of money on your grocery bills.

 

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Buying reusable storage and cleaning supplies can help you save money and protect the environment.

 

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Herbs and spices can be expensive, but growing your own can be fun and save you money. If you have the space, consider starting a vegetable garden as well.

 

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If you’re buying bottled water, you could be spending a lot more at the grocery store than you need to. Opt for tap water and a Brita filter instead.

 

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When you shop online, be sure to do a quick coupon search before checking out, or use a browser extension from a cashback or price comparison app that will find coupons for you automatically.

 

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There are tools that help you avoid overspending, both before and after you buy. Price comparison apps search for products you are shopping for or have purchased to find the lowest price.

  • Paribus: Paribus takes advantage of the generous price-adjustment policies at 25 major retailers, including Target, Wayfair and more. When you purchase a product and the price drops later, Paribus will automatically get you a refund for the difference. It’ll even compensate you for late deliveries.
  • Wikibuy: Wikibuy runs a price comparison while you’re browsing on Amazon or searching on Wikibuy directly. Just click the Wikibuy prompt to see matching products with lower prices, including any eligible coupon codes.

 

With a rewards credit card, you earn valuable rewards as you spend. If you do a lot of your shopping at grocery stores, you might even consider applying for one of the best credit cards for groceries. You can use your rewards for future travel, or redeem for cash or gift cards.

 

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You can also earn cash back with a selection of apps. Choose the one that works best for you, and stack your earnings by using a rewards credit card as well.

  • Fetch: If you don’t want to clip coupons, Fetch will reward you points just for scanning your receipts from grocery stores, convenience stores and big box stores. Once you have at least 3,000 points, you can claim rewards like gift cards.
  • Ibotta: There are three ways to earn with Ibotta: linking your store loyalty card to your Ibotta account, shopping online through Ibotta, or preselecting offers and then scanning your receipt after making a purchase. You can redeem your earnings for gift cards, Venmo, or PayPal payments.
  • Drop: Drop lets you earn rewards at more than just grocery stores by using a linked credit or debit card. You can get points for shopping at more than 300 brands and redeem them for gift cards.
  • GetUpside: With GetUpside, you can browse local offers on a map. Claim the offer and scan your receipt after your purchase to earn points. It works at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants in some areas. You can get up to 25 cents per gallon back on gas, and you can redeem your points for digital gift cards or PayPal payments.
  • MyPoints: You can earn points shopping online at over 1,900 retailers with MyPoints. And when you’re not shopping, you can take surveys, play games and more for extra cash. It’s common to earn one to 10 points per dollar spent, and you can redeem them for a variety of gift cards.
  • Dosh: Dosh rewards you for spending at hundreds of retailers when you shop online with a linked debit or credit card. You get the rewards automatically, without having to select offers or scan receipts. You can earn 2% to 5% back at most stores, and some retailers offer up to 10% cashback. You can even earn up to 40% back when you book hotels through Dosh. Once you’ve racked up $25, you can cash out via PayPal, bank account transfer, Venmo, or donation.

Next: How to save money on credit card interest

 

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If you ensure to make all of your credit card payments on time, you’ll avoid a penalty APR. Just be sure you have the money in your budget to make the payment.

 

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If you’re struggling to pay your bills, try negotiating a lower interest rate with your creditor. They might agree to a temporary or permanent adjustment if you can show hardship and if you’ve been a long-time customer who has never defaulted.

 

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The best balance transfer credit cards offer a 0% introductory APR for a period of time, so you can put more of your money toward debt repayment and save on interest.

 

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If you have good credit, you may be able to consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan. This involves borrowing enough to cover your credit card balances at a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying. Check out our picks for the best personal loans.

 

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You can use a debt automation app like Tally to both automate your repayment and decrease your interest rate. If you’re eligible for Tally’s credit line, your high-interest debt will be consolidated, and Tally will ask for one minimum payment each month. Tally will automatically pay the minimum payment on any lower interest debts you may have or allow you to pay it yourself.

Next: How to save money without much effort

 

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You might choose to set up recurring deposits into an emergency fund or retirement account, or you might use an app like Digit, which analyzes your bills and spending habits to determine how much to safely set aside for you. Digit will automatically help you save more, and you won’t have to take any steps to change your lifestyle.

 

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If you’re hoarding money in a checking account, you’re missing out on the opportunity to accrue interest. Some of the best savings accounts offer generous APYs up to 1.00%, while most checking accounts don’t earn interest at all.

 

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After all those free trials you signed up for, there could be recurring charges on your credit card for services you don’t even use. If you want to cancel those subscriptions without lifting a finger, download Trim, an app that unsubscribes from unused subscriptions for you. It can also help you set up an automated savings plan.

 

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Roundup apps automatically save or invest money for you as you spend. Some options include:

  • Acorns: When you link a debit or credit card, Acorns automatically rounds up your purchase and deposits the spare change into a diversified investment portfolio.
  • Chime: When you bank with Chime, you can elect to automatically deposit the roundup amount from your debit card purchases into a high-yield savings account.
  • Qapital: With Qapital, you can set your own roundup rules for automatically depositing funds toward one of your savings goals.

 

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To ensure you don’t splurge, set a monthly budget for things like takeout and entertainment. An easy way to allocate your spending money is to use a separate credit card (preferably one that earns extra points in those categories) or add the funds to a prepaid card if you need something more restrictive.

Next: How to save for the long haul

 

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A low credit score can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars per year in interest, insurance premiums and more. Maintaining excellent credit will help you save.

 

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You should have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund. This will help you weather financial setbacks and job loss.

 

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Financial experts recommend that you save 15% of your pre-tax salary per year, including employer contributions, in order to retire comfortably.

 

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If you subtract your bills from your post-tax income and allocate the rest of your money to different spending categories, you’ll ensure you have enough to set aside into savings each month.

 

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Establishing short-term and long-term goals can help you create a road map for saving. Automate your direct deposit so you’re putting money into savings without even thinking about it.

 

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To avoid borrowing from your emergency fund when you want to treat yourself, set up a separate savings account for large planned purchases like vacations.

 

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Refinancing your current mortgage could help you achieve a lower interest rate or reduce your monthly payment.

 

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Whether you’re trying to pay off student loan debt or credit card debt, the right approach can help you get there. Use an efficient strategy, such as the debt avalanche method, or take advantage of a balance transfer credit card offer. The quicker you can pay off your debt, the less you’ll pay in interest.

 

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Don’t try to tackle all of these changes at once. Instead, choose the ones that require the least effort and will have the greatest impact to start. If you don’t have an emergency fund, that’s a good place to start. It will improve your financial resiliency to have the extra cash on hand.

From there, make a small change to your savings habits each week or a more significant change every month to work toward your financial goals. After a while, these new habits won’t feel like extra work; they’ll become a part of your lifestyle.

Making progress toward your savings goals means greater financial security for your future, and it also means having the ability to treat yourself every once in a while. While you work toward a stocked emergency fund and retirement account, be sure to also set aside some extra money for goals that are a little more fun. Follow these money-saving simple tips and watch your savings grow.

 

This article originally appeared on FinanceBuzz.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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Myles Ma

Myles Ma is an editor at PolicyGenius.com.