The Pulse

The American Savings Staircase

24% of Americans lack the savings to cover a $250 emergency expense

In a new report from Breeze, 1,500 adult Americans were surveyed to analyze personal savings and how personal savings will impact 2021 holiday shopping and career development. View the complete report here.

The latest research report from Breeze aimed to measure what the average consumer has stowed in personal savings.

1,500 adult Americans were surveyed, the subsequent data was analyzed, and the final results showed most people have a concerningly low amount of money in the bank.

24% didn’t have enough personal savings to cover an emergency $250 expense. 47% couldn’t cover a $1,000 expense.

If they suddenly stopped earning an income, nearly one-third of employed respondents could not cover expenses past the first four weeks using both their personal savings and debt.

The impacts of living paycheck-to-paycheck were far-reaching. 61% are reducing their holiday budget this year, while 53% would have already quit their current jobs to explore other career opportunities if they had the savings to do so.

Starting with what Breeze is dubbing the “American Savings Staircase,” let’s dive into the data.

The American Savings Staircase

1,500 respondents were asked a progression of questions with this structure: Do you have enough personal savings to cover an emergency $XXX expense? (i.e. without having to use a credit card, personal loan, other debt product, etc.)

For the amounts, we started at $250 and ended at over $10,000.

Here’s how the results came in:

  • 24% couldn’t cover a $250 expense (34% of women, 15% of men)
  • 35% couldn’t cover a $500 expense (46% of women, 25% of men)
  • 47% couldn’t cover a $1,000 expense (57% of women, 38% of men)
  • 54% couldn’t cover a $1,500 expense (63% of women, 45% of men)
  • 58% couldn’t cover a $2,000 expense (67% of women, 50% of men)
  • 62% couldn’t cover a $3,000 expense (70% of women, 55% of men)
  • 67% couldn’t cover a $5,000 expense (75% of women, 59% of men)
  • 70% couldn’t cover a $7,500 expense (78% of women, 63% of men)
  • 73% couldn’t cover a $10,000 expense (81% of women, 65% of men)
  • 75% couldn’t cover an expense over $10,000 (83% of women, 67% of men)

Once the hypothetical emergency expense reached $1,500, the majority of consumers were unable to cover that amount with only personal savings.

By gender, the results were eye-catching; female respondents are lagging behind male respondents when it comes to personal savings by a significant margin. For example, 57% of women couldn’t cover a $1,500 expense compared to 38% of men.

The impacts of having next to nothing saved in the bank are fairly blunt. Living paycheck-to-paycheck puts a consumer’s everyday life on a razor’s edge. There’s no margin for error; you’re one emergency medical expense or random life event away from a never-ending debt cycle or even permanent financial ruin.

It’s not only stressful, but it can make milestones like buying a house simply unattainable.

For respondents living paycheck-to-paycheck (unable to cover a $3,000 or less expense), minimal personal savings has impacted career development and will impact 2021 holiday shopping.

The Effect On Holiday Budgets

At least 61% are reducing their 2021 holiday budget

The 2021 holiday season is fast-approaching and that means spending, spending, spending.

Breeze deemed the 932 respondents (62%) that couldn’t cover a $3,000 or less emergency expense as living paycheck-to-paycheck. For this group, at least 61% are reducing their holiday budgets this year.

With 14% opting not to answer, the percentage of respondents cutting back the 2021 holiday budget could be even higher than 61%.

Following up with the same group of poll participants, we next asked how much of their holiday expense will be financed via debt (i.e. credit card, personal loan, etc.).

  • The average respondent will finance 38% of their holiday expense with debt.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck sometimes leaves debt as the only way to keep going, which in turn can create even worse problems stemming from a growing debt balance, overwhelming interest charges, and a damaged credit score.

At the end of this holiday season, many paycheck-to-paycheck consumers will be heading into 2022 with a significant debt problem that will only make a tight lifestyle even tougher to squeeze by.

Covering Expenses If Income Stops

If their income stopped, 29% of respondents could not cover expenses past four weeks

All employed respondents (not just the ones living paycheck-to-paycheck), were asked the following question: In your best estimation, how many weeks could you cover all expenses (rent, internet, insurance, utilities, etc.) if you stopped earning an income for an unknown amount of time? (you could use personal savings, credit card debt, other debt, etc.)

It’s important to note respondents included debt products when providing these projected timeframes. The answers are not just considering personal savings.

Yet still, the plurality of employed consumers (29%) could only make it one to four weeks on personal savings and debt if they suddenly stopped earning an income. Another 16% would only last for five to eight weeks.

It only further highlights that so many Americans are living on razor thin margins and are too reliant on their paychecks to stay afloat.

Financial ruin seems to always be lurking around the corner for a lot of consumers, ready to pounce at the first site of trouble.




All data found within this report derives from a survey created and commissioned by Breeze and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,500 adult Americans were surveyed. The appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s age filtering feature. This survey was conducted on November 9th, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.


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