Money

Americans save less than 5% of their income—here are 3 painless ways to put away more

Building up savings is key to having a comfortable retirement or a cushion in case of an emergency. Yet the average American is saving less than 5 percent of their annual income, far less than the 10 to 15 percent many financial advisors recommend.

"If your personal savings rate is lower than what financial advisors recommend, that's a sign you may not be doing as much as you should to prepare for retirement or unexpected expenses," Carrie Houchins-Witt, a certified financial planner, told the financial website NerdWallet.

"Taking some basic steps to boost how much you're setting aside can be important for a more comfortable future."

Here are three simple, painless steps you can take to increase your savings. While they don't take much effort, they can put you ahead of the curve.

Go automatic

Open a high-interest online savings account, which, as Tom Anderson reports for CNBC, can provide "nearly 10 times more interest on average" than regular ones. Then arrange for small amounts of money to transfer directly from your paycheck to the account on a regular basis.

If you want to reduce the temptation to take money out, set up the account with a different bank than your primary one and pay attention to, or even create, some barriers to withdrawing the funds.

Some accounts, for example, charge small penalty fees if you withdraw too much money or withdraw too quickly.

Once you have a well-padded emergency fund, you might get more ambitious and start putting money towards investments. The stock market has been an unparalleled way to generate returns of late. "Over the past 10 years, even including the financial crisis, stocks have returned an average of 8.6 percent per year," Bankrate reports.

Get rewards

Take advantage of any rewards you get. That includes workplace benefits like a 401(k) match, through which you could be collecting hundreds of dollars a year from your employer — or more.

It also includes credit card rewards. While some people, like billionaire Mark Cuban, stay away from cards because of high interest rates, using plastic wisely often comes with benefits. Just be sure know the terms of your card and understand how to get the most out of it.

By understanding the nuances of their credit cards, this couple flew to five continents for free. They say they saved $54,000 on airline tickets alone.

Start tracking

It's possible to grow your savings without dramatically increasing your income, according to Tom Corley, an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life." The shift starts with better managing the money you've already got.

He suggests going by the 80:20 rule, which suggests you live off 80 percent of your paycheck and save the rest.

"If you stick to the 80:20 rule," he writes, "you will save a lot of money and you'll be wealthy long before you reach retirement age."

Try using a mobile app to help you see where your money is going and how you can afford to turn more of your disposable income into a nest egg. With the savings app Mint, this 25-year-old put away more than $15,000 in three years while living in one of the most expensive cities in America.

To figure out how to reroute your money, decide what's really important to you and what you're just spending on out of habit. Try cutting back on entertainment expenses, like streaming services, ordering in and dining out, Corley says. Using this advice, this customer service rep paid off $30,000 in student loan debt in only one year.

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