Do You Have Emergency Savings? Almost Half Of Americans Don’t

Is there a box of cash stuffed behind the freezer-burned chicken in your freezer to cover your butt in case of an emergency, or even better, money set aside in your savings in case you need it? Almost half of all Americans — 49% — don’t have enough emergency savings to cover three months of expenses, says new research.

The research from, via the Chicago Tribune, shows that number is up from 46% last year. It’s a lot better than in 2006, when 61% of us said we had less than three months savings. So perhaps the recession has taught us something.

“While we’ve seen some improvement since then, the bottom line is that much more progress is needed,”said Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at “Having sufficient emergency savings is critical to avoiding high-cost credit card debt when unexpected expenses arise.”

The good news in the survey run by Princeton Survey Research Associates International is that 24% of the 1,000 adults surveyed reported a better overall financial situation compared to a year ago.

And it seems we’re not feeling so bad about our savings — 32% said they are  “less comfortable with their savings,” compared to 47% who said they had a better nest egg than they did a year ago.

28% of Americans have no emergency savings [Chicago Tribune]



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  1. Taylor Rolyat says:

    Is there an excuse for if you’re 24 and your “emergency savings” is everything that’s in my checking account? It’s not even in the 5 digit range yet, so that’s all I got for the time being (along with a steady job, though)

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Yeah I call it ‘being 24.’

    • dolemite says:

      5 digit range? I’d say 95% of people don’t have at least 10k in savings/checking.

      • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

        Some 24 year olds probably don’t have 5 digits if you include the pennies :)

        I certainly didn’t have 10K in emergency savings at age 24. After working and financing my way through college (emerging with two degrees but not a lot of cash), I had limited savigs for quite a while.

        Just keep putting away a bit every month, and it’ll eventually add up.

        • Jaynor says:

          Yup, this. Start out with whatever you can afford… if possible alter your direct deposit for your paycheck do put some % into a separate savings account up front (so that you don’t have to make the decision to move it there… momentum is a great force for your savings habit).

    • MaxH42 sees what you did there says:

      I didn’t really have an emergency fund until I was 37. Before that, I got by with trying to keep about the same amount as you in checking as a buffer, and allowing myself to carry a short-term credit card balance a handful of times. Just put some small amount, any amount, into a designated emergency fund account every month/week/pay period to get yourself started.

    • TD99 says:

      Well, I didn’t have anything in my emergency savings when I was 24 either. Fast-forward 20 years and now I have over 3 years worth. What changed? My salary has tripled in the past 20 years, 12 years ago I met and married a woman with a good salary, we don’t have kids, our mortgage is low, our cars are paid for, no credit card debt, FICO score is 800+, and we don’t have kids (saying this twice because that’s the real savings). It just takes smart, careful planning and time.

    • corridor7f says:

      I didn’t have any at 24, either – I was making just over min. wage and struggling with student debt while living in my own apt.

      If you have anything at all, be proud of it and keep it growing.

  2. polishhillbilly says:

    Yes in multiple places, on and off shore.
    I’ve also got my wife’s sweet collection of holiday barbies. They should be great barter items! /sarcasm

  3. crispyduck13 says:

    I’ve been holding on to my tax refund and a small bonus from work as my “emergency fund.” I’d like to spend it on fixing up the house (which sorely needs it) but I’ve had quite a complex about letting it go. First time I’ve had significant savings in a few years. It was maybe 2 months worth of expenses before I tapped it for 3 emergencies that came up – hey at least I used it for it’s primary purpose!

  4. Torchwood says:

    Isn’t that the point of taxes….. to ensure that we do not have an adequate reserve and to depend on the government when we are in a crisis?

    Sadly, I only halfway joking…. At this time, I’m paying off some loans.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      This is true for the country at large, not necessarily for individuals. Obviously, individuals benefits, but the purpose is to protect the people at large.

  5. Mitogenesis says:

    I’m accepting donations? I would really like to comply.

  6. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I’m trying to work on this. The problem is, every time I make some headway, life happens and I have to spend some of the money. Right now, I have 5 weeks take home pay saved. My goal is to have 6 months take home pay in available cash. At current saving rates, and if I can hang on to my job, this will probably take at least two more years.

    I don’t go on vacation, go to restaurants, movies, etc., limit shopping to clearance items and necessities, always check thrift stores first, and I don’t have the latest electronic gadgets. I can still cut TV cable and newspaper delivery, but that’s it. I save every penny I can. But when you are a lower income person, there’s only so much you can scrimp on and only so much money you can save.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      You could cut TV, cable, and newspaper, but even someone scrounging to save needs to have nice things.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        I keep the newspaper because it costs $117/year, and the weekend edition contains all the local circulars and coupons. I really don’t need TV cable, as I could just keep internet and phone (I’m a Comcast hostage), but I just haven’t taken the time to take the equipment back to the office. Just canceling TV would get me an additional $50 or $60 per month.

        The hardest part about the whole situation is listening to friends and coworkers talk about spending time on their pontoon boats, going on vacations and cruises, and just having a life! They think nothing of dropping $30 or $40 on drinks and food a couple of times per week. That would erase my entire grocery budget.

        I am starting to allow a few extras, like my soapmaking excursion. Hopefully that will give me something to focus on rather than feeling so poor all the time.

        • VA_White says:

          There is nothing as nice as the security of knowing you have money in the bank and you can live on what you make. It is very hard to ignore the spenders in your life but when you lay your head on the pillow every night, you rest easier because you’re doing what you’re doing. I am most proud of the money I *don’t* spend. Hang in there; you’re doing just great.

    • dks64 says:

      This is my problem too. I FINALLY paid off all of my debt, then my check engine light came on ($700 in repairs, that’s discounted because a family friend did it), my rabbit got sick, car registration was due, dentist bill due, and my income dropped (slow time at the restaurant I work at), all within 2 weeks. Shortly before that, I paid 1k out of pocket to have my wisdom teeth out before losing my insurance. I feel like every time I catch up, I get pulled back. Murphy’s Law. I’m trying to save up to buy a house, but at this point, I’m not saving anything. I do have a little cushion money, but that will be gone if I can’t save more by November, when I need to use the money for a house down payment.

      If business and tips increases, I’ll be in much better shape. Fingers crossed!

  7. byroan says:

    We’re just lucky we have jobs in the first place.

  8. Maz says:

    Unrelated: Why did I have to put on my NoScript white-list post upgrade?

    • MaxH42 sees what you did there says:

      Probably because of the social networking buttons. But I don’t think it was required to comment…I’ve kept it blocked. But I did have to allow in order to get the reply pop-down.

  9. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I have a good savings so far, but will be eaten up by weddding!

    • Sian says:

      Expensive weddings are silly.

      Just go to Vegas and send your folks the pictures. you’ll have more fun and save money. XD

  10. Jaynor says:

    There was a time in my career that I was very concerned I would be suddenly let go from my job, in a terrible employment market.

    At that point I picked up a second job and determined to build an emergency fund.

    At this point I keep approximately 6 months worth of income in a savings account, outside of any outside investments (I participate in a stock purchase program through my employer that takes roughly 15% of my income each check… then reinvest after the holding period in a lazy-man’s portfolio of stock indexed funds… I could cash these out if needed, but I try to save them for my kid’s college, retirement, etc). I also put 6% of pay into a 401k (my company matches the first 6%… so putting less is like leaving money on the table).

    So after another ~4% of income directed to savings this puts me at having only 75% of my pay “usable” (real income is even less after health insurance, life insurance, etc is factored). The upshot is that yeah… it’s uncomfortable. My actual checks now have less dollars on them than what I was taking home 12 years ago. But being lean on my current cashflow means that I am in a better position if the hammer ever does fall. If my employer kicked me to the curb tomorrow I could probably hold out a few years, if necessary, before I would be in big trouble.

    I guess my point is – take the discomfort up front… even if you can only put away 2% of your check… do it. Long term this will help you and it will make your life a heck of a lot easier once you’re past a safety margin (buying cars with cash up front, for example, is freaking amazing vs dealing with financing).

    • chefboyardee says:

      “I guess my point is – take the discomfort up front… even if you can only put away 2% of your check… do it. Long term this will help you and it will make your life a heck of a lot easier once you’re past a safety margin (buying cars with cash up front, for example, is freaking amazing vs dealing with financing).”

      Truth spoken. After being yelled at by Dave Ramsey on the Total Money Makeover audio book, I realized it was worth it to “suffer” for a year without a bunch of stuff (tv, soda, everyone has something they can cut that they don’t want to). It was worth it in the long run, as was picking up the second job, as much as it sucked at the time.

  11. Costner says:

    The research from, via the Chicago Tribune, shows that number is up from 46% last year. It’s a lot better than in 2006, when 61% of us said we had less than three months savings. So perhaps the recession has taught us something.

    My interpretation is slightly different. When people have lost their homes to foreclosure and instead of needing a $1500 house payment they now need $500 for rent, and after the cars are repossessed so there is no car payment, and after the credit card bills go into recovery so there is no credit card payment, and after the cable TV, landline phone, Netflix membership, lawn service, and other non-essentials have already been cut… people start to realize what was one month of living expenses a year ago goes a lot further now.

    So even if a person has the same exact amount of money in savings, if they slash expenses that money will go further. What was once six weeks of living expenses might now be four months worth. So in effect are people really saving more, or are they simply not spending as much which in turn makes their dollar go further?

  12. Kuri says:

    Eh, it almost seems like things are set up just so no one has savings right now.

  13. Maz says:

    Also, of course no one saves. Saving is un-American. Your money should be out in the economy, generating trickle-down wealth for your fellow Americans.


  14. bnceo says:

    Can’t start really saving until gf and I pay off our debts. That will be in March of next year. Then afterwards, we can save $4K a month easily

    • wackydan says:

      You should be saving anyway… paying off debt is good, but paying it off so aggressively that you don’t have enough savings isn’t very smart.

      Still… Sounds like you are in better shape than most americans. Kudos to you.

    • Jaynor says:

      yeah – think of savings as a hedge against future issues. Up front paying off debts may seem like a smart idea (eliminate possibly higher interest loans vs bank interest on your savings) but in actuality – if anything goes wrong it will be better to have a few months of expense money socked away so that you have some breathing room.

    • corridor7f says:

      You can do both, it’ll just slow your debt repayment down a bit.

      I’m saving into a TFSA, a work share program and paying down my debt.

      They way I see it, is if I do have an emergency the last thing on earth I want to do it increase my debt. I’d rather take from my savings. It’s tough, I know. It’s taken me over a year to save 2 months’ expenses.. will be at 3 mid-2013.

  15. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    Why doesn’t the Nanny State swoop in and just ‘gift’ everyone 3 months worth of savings? If they have enough time to worry about how big of a drink we’re able to get, then they can worry about that, too.


  16. Warren - the Original Chocolate Cake with Eyes! says:

    I live cheap and sock it away. Right now I have enough savings to live for about 2 years without working if it ever came to that, or relocate and set myself up elsewhere if I so desire.

    Yeah, I know, the stock market, investments, blah blah blah… I had an ETF portfolio and in this environment all it did was see-saw. Real estate is iffy right now, so I just keep it in savings.

    The only real investment I’ve made is in a rock-solid zombie survival kit.

  17. axiomatic says:

    Yes, its called borrowing against my 401k.

    • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

      I do this…I have great retirement savings, but have never had emergency savings. And I am waaaay past 24. We just keep a budget on our fixed and semi-fixed expenses. Any emergency spending comes out the discretionary funds or 401K loan.. Until we are 100% out of debt, this is the way it will be.

  18. dush says:

    There was another statistic about how most people could not get their hands on $1000 immediately to cover some emergency expenditure.

  19. Janus, Should I laugh or cry? says:

    When people talk about ways of reducing spending like cutting Netflix, they’re looking at piddly items that won’t really save any serious money.

    Over time (a crash course would be too painful), I’ve greatly reduced my monthly spending (having Netflix as an entertainment source helps save money) by doing the following:

    * No alcohol
    * No tobacco
    * Few processed foods. I frequently make “army” meals from cheaper ingredients like carrots & potatoes and freeze. This saves a small fortune.
    * Reduced electrical consumption. I live in the south. The heat and humidity is a killer. The cost of a running a HVAC is also a killer. Instead, I run high-efficiency window A/C units in the back windows of the house. This saves a few hundred dollars a month in electricity and I don’t have to cool the entire house.
    * Rarely eat out. What I cook is far better than most restaurants and I get sick on fast foods.
    * Rarely go to the movie theaters. I love movies and get Blu-Rays through NetFlix.
    * No pets. While I really miss my dogs, when they died I decided that the expenses were too great to sustain in a fragile economy. When I had cats or dogs, I was laying out a fortune for food and especially vet bills.
    * No kids
    * I reduced my mortgage interest so I’m now down to 4% fixed. My mortgage/HOA/tax/insurance combined is less than many people’s rent. Upkeep, however, does cost a lot.
    * No car payment. I paid cash for an older but reliable car with fantastic gas mileage.
    * Other little things, like drying towels, jeans, sweatshirts and other heavy clothing on an inside line (HOA won’t allow outdoor lines). Air dry until barely damp then throw in the dryer.
    * I haven’t paid a penny in credit card interest in years by cutting back on discretionary purchases.

    Add up some but not necessarily all of the above (that’s not realistic for most people), and you’re saving a lot of money each and every month.

  20. Sian says:

    I’ve had to use my emergency savings 4 times in the last 5 years, so it’s a bit depleted, is why.


  21. MAKKMAKO says:

    Emergency savings? You kidding me? I had to use what was left of my 401k to keep my house. Sure is funny how you read all these bank CEOs are making mega-millions, the rest of us live off the scraps.

  22. wildwill2002 says:

    I’m 21 and I have about 1 month worth of emergency funds stashed away. What I do is every now and then, usually once per month, I will take a little extra cash and buy some silver and stash it away. Having my emergency fund in silver works great for me because it is less likely that I will sell it. If I had the same amount of money in cash, it would be very tempting and easy for me to spend it. It’s also a great feeling to buy silver because you get the pleasure of buying something along with the knowledge that I am investing and who knows, it may one day be worth many times its worth today. I just wish I could of started a few years ago.