It’s no secret that Americans are worried about having enough money set aside for retirement, with the Federal Reserve reporting that less than 40 percent of non-retired adults believe they are “on track” with their retirement savings. At the same time, only about 60 percent of Americans have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense.
Americans experience more stress and worry today than at any other time in recent history, according to a new survey by Gallup. In fact, the research firm’s annual poll found that 55 percent of Americans experience stress “a lot of the day” and 45 percent felt worry. Personal finances play an important role in these negative emotions, with 68% of the poorest Americans saying they had a lot of stress, although it is a problem across all income levels.
I grew up in a working-class family and some months it was easier than others to make ends meet, especially when there was an unexpected expense, such a major car repair or medical bill. Fortunately, my father’s employer offered a payroll deduction savings account (and this was back in the 1970s!) to let employees set aside a small amount from every paycheck. To this day, I still recall the times when my parents had to discuss using that emergency savings account to help pay an expected or important expense that they did not anticipate. While it may not have removed all their stresses and worry, that account was the difference between a temporary financial setback and a more-disruptive financial crisis for our family.
Retirement Savings Can’t Be Addressed in Isolation
If we want to solve the retirement savings crisis in this country, we can’t ignore the importance of addressing savings more broadly. If efforts to help workers save for retirement are going to be effective, it will only be possible by taking a more wholistic view of financial wellness into consideration. Employers, the financial services industry, and policymakers must recognize the dual challenge and develop more flexible approaches that will allow individuals and families to address unanticipated needs while saving for retirement.
Just as the public and private sectors have been working to make it easier for workers to save for retirement, similar efforts must be undertaken to make it just as simple to set aside rainy-day or emergency funds. If we can alleviate some of the worry that Americans have about next week or next month, it will be easier to help them get comfortable with putting away an appropriate amount of savings for their retirement years.