Save more. President Obama has suggested providing savings incentives to low- and middle-income Americans by matching half of the first $1,000 such families set aside. It's those groups that have the most trouble saving, says Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and programs at the research organization Demos and author of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead. Government data on savings rates aren't broken down by income level, and Draut suspects that those in the higher income brackets are driving the recent increase in savings rates. "They have the ability to move the aggregate in a way that might be masking the continued declines in savings among low- and middle-income people," she says.
Even before the recession, Draut says, low-income households were struggling to pay for necessities, such as healthcare, food, and child care, let alone scrape together enough for a savings account.
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Look for a better bank. Kevin Martin, executive vice president of personal financial services at HSBC, says that financial institutions have an opportunity to turn Americans' newfound habits into lifelong behaviors. Banks that offer automatic deposits, online banking, no fees, and no minimum requirements for opening accounts make it easier for people to save money, he says.
Don't overdo your newfound frugality. That's not to say most consumers are going to cut up their credit cards and lead lives devoid of material pleasures. Americans love to shop, after all. But they'll likely be more thoughtful about where and when they dole out that hard-earned dough. As the weather improves and tax refunds arrive, Bogue says, people may opt for some selective indulgences. "One consumer told us, 'If I get $1,000 back [in tax refunds], I may buy a $300 purse. If I don't do it, I'll go crazy,'" she recalls.
But the new splurges will probably be tightly controlled, Bogue says. "People come out of the frugality fatigue, and then they're grounded. They have discipline. . . . It's never going to go back to the way it was. We've been so rocked to our core."