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Financial Literacy - Emergency fund
National poll results
The results are mixed. Americans are saving more than last year, but some are better off than others.
Creating an emergency fund

Women trail men in saving

Casualty of tight budget
Although overall poll results showed slight improvements over last year's numbers, women, the young and lower-income groups are still in a vulnerable position.

"I'm a little surprised to see fewer women than men with emergency cushions (fully realized ones, with at least three months' expenses)," Chatzky says. "Women tend to be more conservative." 

McBride offers insight from his work with Money Makeovers. For single moms, at least, "emergency savings is often one of the casualties of a tight household budget."

Emergency savings is often one of the casualties of a tight household budget.”

He stresses that it's not for lack of understanding or need, but when there are limited dollars to cover monthly expenses, emergency savings don't receive top priority. This can be remedied through establishing a plan to begin accumulating savings again. McBride shows how this is done in this month's makeover. His toolkit for building a fund includes boosting income, cutting expenses and diverting resources away from other expenses and funneling them into liquid savings.

Age and affluence
The most important takeaway from our poll is that less than half of respondents reported they have an emergency fund with at least three months' living expenses readily available, says Steven Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, which sponsors the America Saves initiative. Very few among lower-income households have such a fund, he notes.

"In fact, a high percentage of lower-income households have no savings or investment accounts at all," he says.

The youngest in our survey are also lagging: 18- to 24-year-olds, lower income households and people from the South are groups that are most likely not to have any type of savings vehicle. In fact, they're in worse shape than women overall.

Not surprisingly, older and more affluent respondents have fewer savings woes.

"Propensity to have savings increases with income, and the likelihood of having an adequate emergency savings fund increases with age and income," says McBride. Both older and more affluent Americans are also likely to own something other than a savings account.

Epperson points out that while overall, half the people interviewed say they don't have an emergency fund of at least three months' living expenses, the numbers are higher for younger folks: 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and close to 60 percent in the 25- to 34-year-old category aren't prepared. This is troubling, she says, because of the additional complications that come with these life stages.

"When you are in the 18- to 24-year-old bracket, emergencies come up that you can't handle in other ways. Your car breaks down and you don't have any other options to draw upon than credit cards. For 25- to 34-year-olds it's bad because that's the life stage where you're usually starting young families. Kids come with a whole new set of expenses. Maybe you're buying a new home then and that can entail unexpected repairs. People need to figure out how they can save. That number needs to be lower."

-- Posted: July 23, 2007
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