Americans appear to be making a conscious effort to spend less discretionary income in order to save more, a new study has found.
However, many Americans have not cut back on areas that could generate the most savings, Ameriprise Financial said Tuesday on the release of its multigenerational survey.
The survey found that although many Americans were spending less on smaller items, such as eating out, entertainment and clothing, fewer respondents were scaling back on big expense areas.
Only 24% of those with mortgage payments or rent said they had cut back, while 25% had reduced spending on college education for their family and 49% on vacations.
Respondents who had lowered these types of expenses reported average savings of $475 per month.
“It can be difficult to make adjustments to your expenses in order to save more, but the extra cash can really add up over time to make a big impact,” Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial, said in a statement.
“Whether you’re saving for retirement, building an emergency fund or earmarking a stash for future health care costs, cutting back today in order to save more for tomorrow can be rewarding both financially and emotionally.”
Ameriprise Financial commissioned Koski Research to survey 3,002 employed Americans ages 25 to 67 with access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan (or with a spouse with access to such a plan) from Nov. 25 to Dec. 16. All respondents ages 25 to 49 had investable assets of at least $25,000, while those over 50 had at least $250,000 (including employer retirement plans, but not real estate).
The study found that millennials, those born after 1980, were more likely than both boomers and Gen Xers to be consciously cutting back on all 18 discretionary expense categories listed in the survey, including things like electronics and car payments.
However, the study revealed that younger Americans were still likely to take on a large amount of debt while trying to balance other financial goals.
Seventy-six percent of respondents who owned a car felt that their car payments had been a stretch, significantly more than older Americans who were paying off an auto loan. And 78% said their credit card or other miscellaneous bills had made them feel stretched financially.
Even more concerning, Ameriprise said, was that only 59% of millennials said they had a monthly savings plan, compared with 75% of boomers. In addition, just 57% with access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan were contributing enough to take full advantage of their employer’s match.
The study found evidence that younger Americans were anticipating financial hurdles ahead, as 69% said they had either reduced their contributions to their employer-sponsored plan or would consider doing so in the future.
Ameriprise found it surprising that despite these financial hardships, 27% of millennial respondents hoped to buy a vacation home someday, and 40% wanted to fund private K-12 education for their children.
Boomers’ and Gen Xers’ Commitment
Ameriprise said its study had demonstrated that as Americans aged, their attitude toward saving tended to improve.
Eighty-one percent of boomers and 75% of Gen Xers considered themselves to be more of a saver than a spender, compared with 65% of millennials who saw themselves this way.
As evidence, the survey found that 45% of boomers and 38% of Gen Xers were maxing out their 401(k) contributions, and more than two-thirds of respondents from these generations said they had a monthly savings plan.
Still, Ameriprise said, older Americans could pad their savings even more by cutting down on discretionary spending. Boomers and Gen Xers were less likely than millennials to be scaling back their purchases in every expense category indicated in the survey.
For example, 79% of millennials said they had cut back on eating out, compared with 51% of boomers and 70% of Gen Xers who had consciously tried to spend less in this area.
The Mortgage Stretch
The survey found that despite tighter lending limits, many young homeowners had still borrowed beyond their means to afford their homes.
Sixty percent of Gen X and 77% of millennial homeowners acknowledged that their mortgage payments had been a stretch. Moreover, the mortgages were especially onerous for 32% of millennials and 21% of Gen Xers, who described the payments as a big financial stretch.
“The good news is that some Americans have taken action to reduce their housing expenses,” Pat O’Connell, executive vice president of the Ameriprise Advisor Group, said in the statement.
“Still, 60% of all survey respondents say they have not, and don’t plan to, adjust the amount they’re spending on housing in order to save more. Spending less on a mortgage or rent isn’t easy, but it’s important that Americans looking to move to a new home keep in mind their savings goals and set a realistic budget.”