Money

These are Americans' biggest financial fears

From the television series "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce." Pictured: James Lesure as Coach Mike.
From the television series "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce." Pictured: James Lesure as Coach Mike.

Millennials may prioritize travel more and traditional relationship milestones less than members of other generations — but there's at least one thing they can agree on with Americans of all ages: What they fear.

According to a new Merrill Edge report, Americans are overwhelmingly worried that they would be financially "crippled" by certain life events, mostly to do with relationships: Getting divorced, having children, outliving their significant other or living too long themselves. In each case, half or more respondents say they don't know how their financial situation could cope with that disruption.

Yet very few respondents are saving for those eventualities.

Per the report, 71 percent of Americans say they aren't sure they could withstand a divorce, though only five percent are actually making any contingency plans. Likewise, 64 percent say having kids would probably throw their plans out of whack, yet only 23 percent are putting money away to prepare for parenthood.

And 62 percent say they're ill-equipped to live to 100. That may be partly because about 50 percent of those surveyed admit to saving less than 10 percent of their salaries or nothing at all.

The report concludes, "Americans don't feel prepared."

Arguably, some preparation would make sense. Although only one in 6,000 people lives to become a centenarian today, the other scenarios on this list are quite common, even normal. "More than 90 percent of people marry by age 50," reports the American Psychological Association. "However, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce."

And the rate goes up further for subsequent marriages.

After analyzing new research, The New York Times concludes that "the negative implications of divorce for life satisfaction were more than three times greater than the positive implications of marrying," and the damaging effect of divorce on one's financial situation may have something significant to do with that.

Meanwhile, as of 2010, about 80 percent of women have at least one child over the course of their reproductive years.

Facing these realities, and upping your savings to handle them should they occur, could be one way to fight these fears. Cutting back on voluntary expenditures like takeout and learning to cook helped one 31-year-old, who had been feeling "helpless" about his money situation, save $6,000 in a matter of months.

Changing her attitude towards money altogether enabled another millennial, who had been racked with "anxiety" thanks to her "poor financial choices," get out of $10,000 in credit card debt before she turned 30 — and feel better, too.

And personal finance guru Ramit Sethi recommends making six tweaks in order to save $700 each month. Accumulating that kind of cash could help you feel readier to handle whatever life throws at you.

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