Even having a small cushion of savings can go a long way to improving the financial health of many people earning low- and moderate-incomes. The CFPB found recently that a third of adults regularly struggle to make ends meet and experience material hardship. According to a 2016 Urban Institute Report, households with just $250 in savings were less likely to be evicted or miss a housing or utilities payment. Unfortunately, more than 40% of adults in 2017 could not cover an unexpected expense of $400 without borrowing money or selling something. We know there are systematic and individual barriers that coalesce to make building and maintaining savings difficult.
Overcoming the systematic problems that undermine financial security requires longer-term efforts to find ways to boost stagnating wages and help people to build employable skills that prepare them for the next generation of jobs. However, we also know that even people who can save do not always do so. We can help people to build savings if we recognize there are aspects of our psychology and in our environment that make saving difficult, regardless of financial circumstances.
Over the past year, we worked with 6 organizations to help develop interventions to boost savings. Within these partnerships, we tried to reduce friction or add motivation to build savings in three ways.