Despite inflation cutting into Americans’ spending power, many consumers still have thousands squirreled away in rainy-day funds.
Six out of 10 Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, yet it turns out that many are finding ways to stash away some savings. Among Americans with an emergency savings fund, the average balance is about $16,800, according to the 2023 New York Life Wealth Watch Survey.
Considering that the average worker earns an average salary of $60,575, that means most Americans have enough to cover the recommended two to three months’ worth of living expenses.
“Many Americans were able to save down more or bolster their nest eggs as a result of the pandemic,” Suzanne Schmitt, head of financial wellness at New York Life, tells Fortune. Millennials (typically defined as those ages 26 to 41) reported they increased savings over the last couple of years thanks to the student loan repayment pause and lower commuting and rent costs tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. They currently have, on average, just over $14,000 saved. That said, the average savings rate tended to increase by age—which makes sense since Gen X (ages 42 to 57) is in their peak earning years, and baby boomers have had more time to build wealth.
The extent to which that pandemic-era financial cushion is intact today varies, Schmitt says. More than half of Americans (54%) did report meeting or exceeding their savings goals in 2022, according to the NY Life survey. On average, consumers added $5,011 to their emergency funds last year and have saved an average of $2,115 so far in 2023.
“Americans have been focused on shoring up their emergency savings, often citing it as a high-priority financial goal,” Schmitt says. In fact, at the outset of 2022, 38% of Americans said that building their emergency fund was their top short-term financial priority. And high interest rates are helping many grow their balances. Many high-yield savings accounts, for example, are offering rates of 4% to 5%.
Savings goals may still be at the forefront, but inflation weighs heavily for most Americans these days. More than half of adults (58%) report the rising costs of everyday expenses is their number one concern—not to mention true emergencies. “Unexpected expenses, or financial shocks, are common across all households, with the most common source of unexpected, significant debt being medical debt,” Schmitt says.
That’s why so many financial experts recommend, as much as possible, Americans build an emergency savings fund that covers at least two to three months of expenses. This can provide financial resiliency and reduce the overall reliance on expensive credit card debt. Schmitt says Americans shouldn’t stop once they’ve met that goal of three months of expenses though. “Keep going to cover six to nine months of expenses,” she says, adding this extra cushion can be particularly helpful for those who have incomes that tend to fluctuate, like those working on commission, or among workers who have inconsistent work schedules.
“All in all, though, it’s important to make a start and have a balanced approach to savings and investment decisions, making adjustments where needed,” Schmitt says.
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