20% of Americans Aren't Saving a Penny

We're told we're supposed to save money for a variety of scenarios -- emergencies, long-term unemployment, and retirement, to name a few. But clearly, a large number of workers aren't listening. In fact, 20% of U.S. adults aren't saving any money month after month, according to new data from Bankrate.

By contrast, 16% of Americans are currently setting aside more than 15% of their incomes on a regular basis. And that means they're less likely to run into money problems in retirement or when an unplanned bill comes their way.

Why are so many workers unable to add money to their savings? A good 39% blame their high living expenses, while 16% claim their jobs don't offer them the opportunity.

But let's be honest: These are really just excuses. And the sooner more folks stop making them, the sooner they'll stop putting their immediate and long-term financial security at risk.

You need savings

As a general rule, it's a good idea to sock away 15% or more of your earnings consistently. But if you can't do that, then at least make an effort to save something each month and then work your way up.

As an immediate goal, aim to have a minimum of three months' worth of living expenses in the bank. This will serve as a means of financial protection should you get hurt, lose your job, or find yourself stuck with a whopping bill that your regular paycheck has no shot of covering.

Once your immediate safety net is established, you can work on building a nest egg for retirement. The good news here is that if you're relatively young and still have a long stretch of working years ahead of you, making modest contributions to a retirement plan each month will go a long way over time. Case in point: If you were to put $200 a month into an IRA or 401(k) starting at age 25 and that investment's average annual rate of return were 7% -- which is more than doable with a stock-focused strategy -- by age 65, you'd be sitting on $479,000. Make it $300 a month and your total climbs to $719,000.

Of course, this assumes you have a decent savings window ahead of you. If you're much older, you'll need to do better than $200 or $300 a month. You may not manage to go from saving nothing to socking away $600 monthly overnight, and that's OK. The key is to start saving some amount at present and slowly but surely increase that figure.

Finding ways to save

Where will the money come from that you're supposed to be saving? Chances are, you have more flexibility with your current paycheck than you think. You just need to be willing to set priorities and make a few reasonable sacrifices. This means examining your budget (or creating one, if you don't have one already) and identifying a few expenses you're willing to cut back on.

Maybe it's the cable package you know you can easily downgrade. Or maybe you brown-bag it twice a week instead of buying lunch every day, and eke out some savings there. These two moves alone could put an extra $100 a month back in your pocket, and that's cash that can go directly into the bank or your retirement plan.

Another option? Get a side hustle. The beauty here is that anything you earn on top of your regular job isn't money you were counting on to pay your bills -- so you should have no problem sticking all of it into a savings or retirement account. In fact, if your side gig generates enough cash, you may not need to cut many -- or any -- living expenses.

Finally, be judicious when extra money comes your way. Whether it's a bonus, tax refund, or gift from a generous family member, if you haven't been saving consistently (or at all) to date, then any additional cash you get your hands on should go into savings, whether it be of the near-term or long-term variety.

Remember, no one is immune to financial emergencies, and everyone needs a retirement nest egg. The sooner you make an effort to save money in some shape or form, the more security you'll buy yourself, both now and in the future.

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