Who are the best and worst savers?

Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.
Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.

THIS is one of the questions that the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra set out to answer in its recently released report Saving Tomorrow.

Some of its answers are likely to surprise you. And the answers should provide many wakeup calls – including for those winding down their careers in the final years before retirement.

As a broad comment, NATSEM notes that Australians on average – as with the experience in the United States, for instance – no longer spend more than they earn. (The modelling is based on statistics to December 2009.)

The propensity of Australians to save has somewhat improved the sting of the GFC. But as NATSEM comments: “Whether it is a permanent change or just a fad remains to be seen.”

We have hardly become champion savers. The median amount saved by those 15 and over is less than $300 a year.

And sadly, even the savings figure of under $300 a year can give a misleading impression given the wide disparity in saving patterns.

“One-quarter of Australians saved more than $12,360 a year over a four-year period and another quarter of Australians reduced their savings, or probably went further into debt, by $9,810 a year,” the researchers found.

Consider these particular findings by NATSEM:

  • In geographic terms, Australia’s best savers live in the Northern Territory – saving $4,970 a year or 16 times the national median amount.
  • Young people and those in retirement typically spend $100 per year more than they earn.
  • By age, Australia’s best savers are 45-54, saving more than $2,260 a year. “A somewhat surprising observation,” says NATSEM, “is that those approaching retirement (age 55-64) are saving less than those age 45-54.” Yet generally, their children would have left home and their finances should be in the best shape of their lives.
  • Predictably, men are much better savers than women, having twice the median savings. Women, of course, have lower average incomes, often interrupt their careers to raise children and do more part-time work because of family responsibilities.

Finally, one of the report’s shock findings is that a quarter of Australians classified by researchers as high-income earners – with mean after-tax incomes of $86,800 a year – were Australia’s worst savers by far in dollar terms.

The lower quartile of the high-income group overspent their annual incomes by a breathtaking $25,710 a year.

Another savings wakeup call has been loudly sounded.

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Robin Bowerman, Vanguard Investments Australia's Head of Retail, has more than two decades of experience in the finance industry as a writer, commentator and editor.

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