While evidence of a new frugality keeps adding up, Americans still aren't saving enough for emergencies. A survey commissioned by HSBC Bank USA found that 61 percent of us would only have enough savings to live on for three months or less if we lose our jobs. More than a third of U.S. households polled -- 38 percent -- don't have enough savings to last a month.
Of a group of households polled in July, only 11 percent had enough savings to pay living expenses for 12 months, which is the standard some experts call for in this recession. Households with higher incomes have more savings, but they're not immune to the downturn: 29 percent of households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more only have enough savings to last up to three months. Households with incomes under $50,000 per year had it much worse: 51 percent had only enough to last a month.
Not surprisingly, the HSBC survey found that consumers have every intention of saving more. Most of the 1,000 households surveyed have made changes to save money in the last six months; 55 percent say they have cut back on leisure activities, 46 percent on travel, and 40 percent on electronics. But this virtue may not last: 93 percent also said they plan to go back to spending on at least one of those things once the economy improves.
For all of Americans' good intentions, it's not a coincidence that their consumer spending makes up 70 percent of the U.S. economic activity. Americans love their flat-screen TVs and electronic toys. Once this downturn is over, spending will pick up again. The only question is whether this credit crunch has scared enough consumers into living within their means to lift savings rates once the good times roll again.
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