There is a reason trapeze artists use nets: While swinging on a flying trapeze can be glorious, a fall can mean disaster.
But too many Americans act like trapeze artists without nets when it comes to saving. Some 60 percent of American workers said they and/or their spouse have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments, and just 3 percent reported having $75,000 or more, according to research by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates.
Barbara Tantillo, 49, a registered nurse who worked for years for pharmaceutical companies, was decidedly not in that 3 percent. She married young, and the couple soon had three sons. But after 18 years she and her husband divorced. Tantillo was focused on retaining custody of her boys, so she allowed her husband to dictate key terms of the divorce settlement. As a result, while she got the house and the car, she said she also got the bills — and her husband got to keep his pension and savings from the Air Force Reserves.
"If we were still married, that ultimately would have been our savings and our retirement money," Tantillo said. "My name wasn't on the account so I had no access to that money."
After the divorce, money got tighter. Even though Tantillo had been the primary breadwinner, "one of the things I started to find out was even a little bit of a salary, when you don't have it, it does make a difference," she said. Her finances were stressed further as her sons approached college age. When her oldest was accepted to Penn State she took a second job to make ends meet. Savings was far from the top of her priority list.
"One of the big mistakes, lesson learned, that I didn't really think of was putting money away because nothing is going to happen, right?" she said. She was earning enough to keep her family comfortable, and she had disability insurance in case anything happened.