Pandemic Era Has Been a Rollercoaster for Americans’ Savings — How to Better Weather the Economy and Pull Ahead

In this rear view, an unrecognizable woman stands with a shopping cart in front of a shelf full of food in the bread aisle of a grocery store.
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One of the main narratives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is that while many Americans took a financial hit due to lost jobs and income, those who maintained their regular incomes were able to save a lot of money. The reason is simple: They weren’t spending money on discretionary purchases like entertainment, dining out and travel because of lockdowns and restrictions.

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That’s changing, however. More than two years into the pandemic, savings have begun to dwindle for many Americans, according to the “2022 Planning & Progress Study,” an annual research report commissioned by Northwestern Mutual.

The study was based on a survey of 2,381 American adults conducted earlier this year by The Harris Poll. Among its findings was that the average amount of personal savings in 2022 is $62,000, down from $73,000 in 2021 — a decline of 15%.

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The drop in savings is understandable given some of the economic dynamics of 2022, according to Christian Mitchell, executive vice president and chief customer officer at Northwestern Mutual.

“There could be several factors contributing to the drop in savings from last year ranging from spiking inflation to people spending more as they resume some sense of normalcy in their lives,” Mitchell said in a press release. “But it bears watching because while people say they plan to continue saving at an elevated rate going forward, intentions don’t always follow through to action.”

The good news is, 60% of respondents said they have been able to build up their personal savings over the last two years, and 69% of those respondents said they plan to maintain their new savings rate in the future. About two-thirds said they have (or will) achieve long-term financial security, while 60% expect to have enough to retire.

Americans as a whole have adopted better financial habits since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the survey, the top five financial behaviors adopted during the pandemic are (in order):

  • Reduced spending.
  • Reduced debt.
  • Increased investing.
  • Increased use of technology to manage finances.
  • Regularly revisiting financial plans.
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Maintaining these habits will play a big role in helping Americans weather current economic headwinds, which include soaring inflation, rising interest rates and a looming recession. Nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents said they expect to maintain good financial habits going forward — which sounds good, until you consider that this figure is down from 95% who said the same thing in 2021.

“People have adjusted to the many ways the world has changed over the last two years and have emerged with some different financial priorities, habits and points of view,” Mitchell said. “But progress doesn’t always follow a straight line — there’s been a little wobble in people’s behaviors compared to last year.”

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To help ensure you stay on the right financial track even in a challenging economic environment, the Policygenius website suggests taking these steps:

  1. Set financial goals and stick to them. This should include specific items, such as how much savings you plan to spend as income every year once you retire, and devising a strategy make that happen. It also should include the reasoning behind stated goals.
  2. Set a percentage for savings. This can be any number you are comfortable with, whether it’s 2% or 20% of your income. But it’s important to earmark something each month for retirement savings, emergency savings, and discretionary savings.
  3. Automate savings by setting up an automatic transfer into your savings and investment accounts each month or pay period.
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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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