Working Americans are still struggling when it comes to saving money for both their short-term and long-term goals: More than one in five (21 percent) don't save any of their annual income.
That's according to a new survey from Bankrate.com, which asked 1,000 working American adults how much of their annual income they set aside for retirement, emergencies and other financial goals.
And those who do save, Bankrate finds, aren't setting aside a lot: 20 percent save only 5 percent or less of what they make, and 28 percent save 6 to 10 percent. Just 16 percent are saving more than 15 percent of their income.
Experts generally recommend earmarking 10 to 20 percent of your income just for retirement savings.
Researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity project that, if you want to retire at age 65 and maintain your standard of living, you need to put 10 to 17 percent of your current income into a retirement account. And that's if you start saving as early as age 25.
Bankrate's survey, which looks at short-term and long-term savings, suggests that most Americans aren't saving enough. After all, 69 percent of Americans are saving 10 percent or less or their income.
Younger people, in particular, are having a hard time: "Older households (age 55 and above) are more likely than other age groups to be saving more than 10 percent of their annual income," Bankrate reports. "Millennials and Gen Xers, on the other hand, are more likely to say they're not saving any money at all."
The survey also offers insight into why much of the population is lagging behind. When Bankrate asked survey participants why they aren't saving more money, the most popular response was "expenses," followed by "haven't gotten to it" and "job isn't good enough."
Sure enough, day-to-day costs continue to soar. Middle class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was 20 years ago. The cost of big-ticket items like college, housing and child care has risen precipitously: The cost of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2016 and housing prices in popular cities have quadrupled, Alissa Quart, author and executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, tells CNBC Make It.
Meanwhile, salaries, which have stagnated, don't go as far as they once did to cover the necessities, Quart points out.
While all of this makes it more difficult to set aside money for the future, the longer you put off planning for your golden years, the further behind you'll fall.
The good news is there are ways to make progress without feeling cash-strapped or committing to any drastic lifestyle changes. Here are three effective strategies:
1. Start as soon as possible. The sooner you begin saving and investing your money, the less you'll have to save each month to reach your goals, thanks to the power of compound interest.
If you start at age 23, for instance, you only have to save about $14 a day to be a millionaire by age 67. That's assuming a 6 percent average annual investment return. If you start at age 35, on the other hand, you'd have to set aside $30 a day to reach seven figures by age 67.
2. Automate. Automating your savings — meaning, you have a portion of your paycheck sent directly to a retirement account, such as a 401(k), Roth IRA or traditional IRA, or any other savings account — allows you to save effortlessly. You'll never even see the money you're setting aside and will learn to live without it.
3. Bank any surplus money. Whenever you come across any extra cash — a bonus, birthday check or small windfall — rather than blowing it on a new pair of shoes or a vacation, send at least a chunk of it straight to savings.
To resist the temptation of spending any surplus money, deposit it right away, so you never even see it.
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