Saving Money: The Top Ten Excuses I Hear

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Audio Saving Money

I’ve heard every excuse.

And, to be honest, I’ve used some of them myself.

I feel it’s time to call ourselves out on what we’re doing to ourselves.

As a country, our savings record is pretty shabby.

Saving Money

We have three kinds of savings that we should be doing: (1) short term: saving enough to have at least six months of living expenses; (2) medium term: saving for a big purchase such as a house, boat, college, etc., and (3) long term: saving for retirement.

In 2012, said that 28% of Americans had no savings at all. Twenty percent have some, but not enough to cover even three months of living expenses. Forty-three percent had enough to cover three months of expenses. And that’s three months, not the six months many experts recommend.

Saving for big purchases is harder to measure, because we don’t know what accounts are specifically for big purchases, and not part of emergency funds or retirement savings. In any case, savings efforts aren’t exactly stellar: a Pitney Bowes report stated that in 2011 the average savings account balance in the U.S. was $5,923. (Remember, that’s an average, so some may be doing a good job while some are doing nothing, or very little. But the average number is numbingly low. Not many cars or houses are being bought with under $6,000!)

As for saving money for retirement, it can be tucked away in all sorts of accounts, including IRAs, stock trading accounts, even gold bullion. It doesn’t matter what form it’s saved in, as long as it is. Employees have a greater chance of saving if they have access to company retirement plans. Entrepreneurs have to be more self-motivated to save on their own.

And the news is not good. A 2014 Retirement Confidence Study says that 73% of those without a retirement plan [whether an IRA, 401(k) or 403(b)] have under $1,000 in investments and savings.

Age-Based Savings Guidelines

So how much should be in those retirement savings accounts? In 2012, Time Magazine reported on some interesting age-based savings guidelines provided by Fidelity Investments. These offer a quick-and-dirty assessment of whether we’re on track, although the calculations should actually be more precise. In any case, they said:

• At age 35, you should have saved an amount equal to your annual salary.
• At age 45, you should have saved three times your annual salary.
• At age 55, you should have saved five times your annual salary.
At age 67, about when you retire, you should have eight times your annual salary.

How are we doing? Well, in December 2011, USA Today said that when it came to saving money, half of all retirees had less than $25,000 in savings. (Not exactly eight times their annual salary.)

No More Excuses

Here are the Top Ten Excuses I hear:

  1. “My plan is to save what I have left over, and I never have anything left over.”
  2. “I transfer money from checking to savings, but then have a bad month and need the savings to cover my checking account overdraft.”
  3. “I save whenever I get a big windfall, like my IRS refund check, but I don’t get enough of those.”
  4. “Every time I put something aside, one of my kids comes and tells me she blew the engine in her car and needs it to commute to work, or something like that.”
  5. “Savings accounts don’t pay much interest, so it’s easier to just leave the money in my checking account. And somehow it gets spent …”
  6. “No one can save money in this lousy economy.”
  7. “I’m still young and have plenty of time to save later.”
  8. “I’ve just never been a good saver; no one in my family is.”
  9. “I have too much debt.”
  10. “The prices of food and gas are going up so fast, they eat up everything I think of saving.”

So how are you doing compared to Fidelity’s age-based retirement savings guidelines?

If you’re not doing as well as you’d like, how many of the Top Ten Excuses have you used with yourself? (I admit to having leaned on #1 and #7 for far too much of my early career.)

Let us know in the Comments section below, if you’re brave enough to share …


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial  peace of mind.

  • Martha Giffen

    Great wake-up call. I guess it doesn’t matter WHICH excuse is used, because in the end, if you don’t have enough money to retire, it’s a huge problem. Being an entrepreneur presents it’s own set of money “excuses” and I know at one point, we have used them all. My husband and I had to take stock and get with a program. It’s not just about your future. It’s about being able to sleep at night. LOL

    • The entrepreneur angle does indeed complicate it, Martha. What I hear a lot is “I’m just reinvesting everything in my company and hope I can sell it and retire on the proceeds.” Sounds good, but It’s a risky strategy. Yet consistent with our natural optimism. (If we weren’t optimists, we wouldn’t be entrepreneurs!) Glad you and your husband “got with a program” … 😉

  • Your straight-to-the-point posts are very eye-opening Sharon. In my life, I’ve been down and I’ve been up, often through very unexpected life turns that I could never have planned for or even imagined possible. I’ve had to learn not to focus so much on money (which was my preoccupation when I was young) and go with the flow of my life. Taking stock at any age is a great exercise and coming from a family history where no-one ever did that, I’m it. The one who asks questions and encourages others to put their money life in order. Thanks for the great post!

    • Very few of us live life in a straight line, Beverley. It’s just our particular “details” that change. Combine that with our individual “money story” and we find people all over the map when it comes to preparedness (and their attitude towards it). I figure my goal is to get the information out there to tweak anyone who needs (or wants) tweaking. Then it’s up to them to absorb and/or act. If any is useful in your designated role as family “tweaker,” be my guest! 😉

  • Meryl Beck

    I am sure we have all used one of these excuses at some point in our life. When we are young we tend to think we have forever and don’t focus on the big picture or that there can be such big changes in our lives that will forever impacted. Having your finances in order is a tremendous stress reducer. This is one of the main causes of so much turmoil in people’s lives. Life has many twists and turns and knowing you have a financial plan in place is so important for our future and well being in making choices as we get older.

    • One of my toughest challenges, Meryl, is getting the attention of young people … but then, we ignored all the pleas and exhortations, too! If only they truly understood how much easier it is if you start early, and let time multiply your savings, however small they might be. From our side of the curve, it seems so obvious, but it’s not to them. (But I’ll keep trying!)

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Oooh….I’ve heard some of those “excuses” before…won’t say where! 😉 After losing everything a few years ago, I could no longer come up with excuses. I’ve learned my lesson, got help and am on my way to rebuilding. Thanks for sharing another great post!

    • Many of us who had had huge losses … and we all use that phrase “lost everything” … learned lessons we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, a few don’t and insist on repeating the stress and distress. Glad that’s not us, Alexandra!

  • Tina Ashburn

    Oh, my goodness, I’ve used every one of these excuses! But I’m rebuilding and I hope to live long enough to recover!

    • Just remember, Tina, that every step you take in the direction of recovery means having that much more than if you didn’t take it … and you’ll be glad you did when you get older. 😉

  • I think you should always have a small amount set aside, you can even set it up on payroll to have it sent to another account. Make it hard to get to the money so that you aren’t easily tempted. We have a savings account and have to think about it before we transfer anything from that account. This keeps us from splurging unless its an emergency.

    • You’re right, Christy, having “saved money” in a place that’s too easy to get to results in it getting spent on things that aren’t real emergencies …

  • I love your blogs, honest, to the point, and simple easy points, Thanks for another great one Sharon….

    • Thanks, Carly, for the kind words. My hope is that by “slicing” each issue real thin, it will make sense to the greatest number of people … which may lead to them taking action.

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  • Carmen M Perez ELO

    Thank you for sharing these guidelines and excuses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used number 2 over the last 5 years. Xx

    • Life throws us curve balls, Carmen. And we have to build back. Lots of people are building back from the events of 5-6 years ago, especially if it led to new or greater uncertainty in their lives. Hope that “certainty” is working its way into your life right now! 😉

  • kungphoo

    Yup, I tend to have a lot of excuses as well. I will definitely have to turn that around. Thank you for always providing wonderful advice and inspiration!

    • Those excuses are simply signs that you haven’t made up your mind yet to do it … whatever “it” is, Rob. And as committed I see you being to other things, I know you will do so … hopefully sooner than later! 😉

  • Nate Leung

    Hi Sharon – I went down the list on this blog and something just occured to me. About two weeks ago, some of the excuses that I just read are the same ones that my friends were saying and I noticed that the more they said it, the more I started to realize it kept happening. I think sometimes we just need to be careful of what we say and how we think.

    • Glad reading this raised your awareness of what people will do and say to keep themselves from the financial freedom I know you hold dear, Nate!

  • Veronica Solomon

    I have used a few of these excuses myself to be honest with you. I am a big believer in saving and have done very well in the past. then the unforeseen happens and there it goes. I really need to guard my savings and stay committed no matter what

    • We’ve all used them at some point, Veronica. You’ve saved before, so know you can. “Something” will trigger that discipline again, it’s just a matter of time … 😉

  • Susan Schiller

    This has been a point of stress for quite some time, and I’m afraid I’ve developed a #11 excuse… but like most excuses, it feels quite logical. I think of the Levites in the Old Testament, and how they, of all the tribes, did not have an inheritance in the land, no land or assets to call their own. I don’t want to over-spiritualize because you know my background, but at this point in my life, having invested almost everything into ministry, I have to go by blind faith right at this moment. This month, in fact, I had to make a commitment that determined whether I could move forward in creating a more substantial savings, pulling back from ministry. I really struggled with my reasoning, and whether I made the right or the wrong decision, time will tell. But I chose to invest in ministering to the rejects, to the ones churches and doctors and psychiatrists give up on…. who have lost everything – their homes, families, and health. One thing I know without a doubt, whenever I have made a commitment like this, everything I need shows up at the right time. So I guess my #11 excuse is living life as an levite-sort-of-gal… and it still seems totally irrational, and yet i feel at peace. I do still keep a minimum savings, plus emergency cash, as you’ve led us to do. And I’m debt-free, still. I desire to improve those areas… sigh…

    • I read your article before I read this, Sue. Yours is not Excuse #11, for it’s not an excuse. It’s a reason. There are times in our lives when we cannot follow the guidelines given us by contemporary society. We have to follow our soul. And your decision is soul-based. All I ask, for your sake, is that you hold on to the “minimum savings plus emergency cash” the best you can. Having “something” represents having choices; having “nothing” distorts our decisions because it feeds the sense of lack or scarcity. And if anyone wants to pay you for you doing something, whatever it is, please accept that pay. It’s important to stay open to being taken care of and valued … especially as you dive into your chosen ministry. And, most important, don’t lose touch … <3

      • Susan Schiller

        Your words wipe away the guilt. Thank you for your gentle touch, wisdom, and compassion! You shine – thanks!

  • Yikes!!! Sharon, I’m way off, but each time I read your blog, I get a spark of conviction to be more aware of my relationship to money. I’m working on doing better. It’s such hard work because it requires discipline, which I’m working on. Thank you for sharing these timely words!

    • Marvia, I’m happy to keep chipping away at that resistance with you … 😉 The important thing is that you’re willing to keep reading. Even subconsciously, that has an impact on decisions you make, whether you realize it or not. Good for you!!

  • Sharon, that’s a great strategy to start off with! I appreciate you bringing light to this serious issue. It’s what has gotten us in trouble as a country and as families. The battle it seems rests with the gov’t and big retail business encouraging us to spend, spend, spend in order to grow the economy. We went from a saving/manufacturing country to a spending/consumer driven economy. Keep up the great work!!!!

  • Gina Stroud Binder

    This is a GREAT great post! I leaned on #1 until I had a “come-to-Jesus” moment a few years ago. I cut unnecessary spending and prioritized saving by reframing it as “pay myself first”. Then I automated savings and investment deposits. The important thing is to start NOW. Don’t wait for a future windfall. All those lattes and fast food meals can add up to a nice chunk of savings or investment change – IF we save the money rather than spend it.

  • Great list here! I know I am guilty of a couple of these! It’s a good reminder to change the mindset and get to saving. Everyone could use having some savings!

  • Roslyn Tanner Evans

    We have been retired for many years and it is our pensions and social security that supports us. I still beieve in adding to savings but hubby doesn’t. I’ve chosen to not argue over it. Wish we had a larger nest egg, but we live nicely within our means. Some of our children save, budget and plan for the future while others just get by monthly. Wish everyone read your posts, your wisdom and strategy.