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Americans are saving more during the pandemic: CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey

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Americans are saving more and spending less during the pandemic

One way that people are responding to the coronavirus pandemic and all the disruption it's brought is by exercising more financial discipline.

The share of individuals who classify themselves as "savers" rather than "spenders" has risen to 60% this year, up from 54% last year, according to a new CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey. (More than 5,400 adults were interviewed online in August by SurveyMonkey.)

And about half of respondents said they've decreased their spending over the course of the last 12 months. 

Party identification seems to have an impact on someone's likelihood to be cutting back. 

Of the 49% that have cut back on spending, some of the reasons people say they're reticent to open their wallets: the current economic situation (53%), a decline in household income (23%), a lost job (14%) and large medical bills (9%). 

During these anxious times, it can be comforting to watch your bank account go up. 

"No one knows what tomorrow brings," said Leslie Thompson, managing principal of Spectrum Management Group at Carson Wealth in Indianapolis. "Savings cushions are necessary to provide choice and the ability to quickly pivot." 

How to keep it up 

In the midst of the pandemic, many people are feeling bored and lonely, and that can drive them to look for instant gratification through online shopping, Thompson said. 

To avoid those purchases, Thompson said, "consider adding items to your cart but wait 24 hours to hit send." 

Track your spending to get a sense of where you need to apply more discipline, Thompson said.

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Maybe you're ordering take-out a lot, for example, and can start cooking more instead.

If you know the amount you want to be putting away, "then set that up to automatically go to your savings, and force yourself to survive off what is left over," said Andrew Rosen, a certified financial planner and partner at Diversified Lifelong Advisors in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Where to put the money 

You want three to six months' worth of your expenses sitting in an emergency savings account, financial experts say. This money should be put somewhere that you can easily access. 

Try to find a savings account with a higher return than you'll pick up at your typical big bank. The average interest rate on a savings account is only around 0.18% these days, said Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com. 

But some banks are more generous. For example, online bank SFGI Direct pays 1.01% a year. Vio Bank, CIBC Bank USA and Axos Bank all pay around 0.90%, Tumin said. (And all of these banks are FDIC-insured, meaning up to $250,000 of your deposit is protected from loss.)

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Although moving your cash can take some work, it can be worth it. A $10,000 account with a 1% interest rate will earn around $512 by the end of the year, compared with just $5 for an account earning 0.01%, according to Kimberly Palmer, banking specialist at NerdWallet. 

After you've built your emergency account, you want to put extra savings into the market, where returns over the long-term will likely be much higher. From 1900 to 2017, the average annual return on stocks after inflation has been around 8%, according to Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

One good home for more of your savings is a Roth individual retirement account. That's an investment account in which you deposit money that you've already paid taxes on. When you take out the money, you don't owe any more taxes. There are, however, limits to how much you can contribute each year. 

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A Roth IRA can be helpful during such uncertain times. That's because, unlike with other retirement accounts, you can withdraw any money you have contributed to this account at any point without facing penalties. 

"If you think you might need to tap into the money but you want to start being serious and try not to, it's a great vehicle to consider," said Maura Cassidy, vice president of retirement at Fidelity.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.