A chief executive in Seattle made national headlines this week when he slashed his salary so that his employees could make at least $70,000 a year.
That’s way above the federal minimum wage, and it is roughly double the previous salaries of some of his workers, according to a report in the New York Times. But for some families, even that sort of paycheck may not be enough to guarantee they won’t be undone by one emergency.
Close to one in three households earning more than $75,000 a year live paycheck-to-paycheck at least some of the time, according to a survey released Thursday by SunTrust Bank. More than one in four households earning more than $100,000 a year said the same.
The study showed that even households with middle-class earnings can struggle to save. When it came to retirement savings, 43 percent said they’re not saving enough or aren’t sure if they’re on track to have a large enough nest egg.
Granted, some of those low saving rates are due to poor spending habits. Of those who said they weren’t saving as much as they could, 44 percent said it was because they were spending too much money on leisure. For millennials, that jumped up to 71 percent.
The biggest culprits: 68 percent of people said they spent too much on going out to eat, 37 percent said they did too much shopping, and 35 percent said they overspent on entertainment.
It could be a sign that people let their spending grow at a faster pace than their paychecks over the years, says Beverly Ladley, an executive with SunTrust. (Think of friends who went out and bought a new car or moved to a bigger apartment as soon as they landed a promotion.) “It can sound like a lot of money,” she says, “but when they really understand what their expenses are, what they have left over is not very much.”
The study didn’t factor in family size or health care needs or other factors like student loans that could make it legitimately difficult to live on $75,000 a year. Wages have been nearly flat for several years, making it harder to keep up with rising living expenses, health care costs and tuition costs.
Still, many people might be able to save more if they could get a better handle on where their money was going, Ladley says. People are also better at saving if they have a specific goal in mind like buying a house, planning a vacation or preparing for a baby, she says.
It’s a good idea to create buckets within the savings account or to open multiple accounts so that each goal can be tracked individually, she says. “Once they achieve one goal, it actually motivates them to do more,” she says.
Bigger goals, broken down into smaller steps, have a similar effect, Ladley says. Take the common advice of setting aside some cash to cover emergencies or other unexpected costs — which would eliminate the paycheck-to-paycheck scenario. The recommendation of saving six months’ worth of living expenses may seem unattainable, but first save one week’s worth, then one month’s and so on, she says.
Consumers should also get in the habit of boosting their savings every time they get a boost in pay, Ladley says. Take a 3 percent raise for example. Boosting retirement contributions by one percentage point would still leave a 2 percent bump in pay for extra spending — and other savings goals.