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A Personal Savings Rate by Country Comparison

Last updated by on 17 Comments

I’ve been on a bit of a personal savings rate kick lately. Why, you may ask? Because this one little financial ratio is a huge predictor of not only how responsible one is with their finances, but also how quickly that person may be able to retire.

As I highlighted last week before polling readers on their own savings rate, the average U.S. personal savings rate has been around 5% for the last few years.

That seemed pretty darn low. And it seemed even lower after I found out that percentage includes not only take-home savings and IRA contributions, but employee AND employer retirement contributions.

Yikes.

Naturally, I wondered how the citizens of our fine country stacked up against other industrialized nations.

I found an interesting chart from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that highlights past and forecasts future personal savings rates by country for 24 of the largest GDP countries that publish this statistic.

personal savings rate by country

In 2013, the savings rate from the most notable countries were:

  • Australia: 11.1%
  • Canada: 5.0%
  • Germany: 9.9%
  • Ireland: 5.0%
  • Japan: 0.8%
  • France: 15.4%
  • Spain: 9.1%
  • UK: 5.8%
  • US: 4.5%

What can we take away from this data?

1. At Least Americans are not Dead Last

As bad as the U.S. personal saving rate looks, it’s not the worst. We came in 16th out of the 28 countries in 2013.

2. Canucks Like to Spend

Canadians have previously had a worse personal savings rate than Americans in recent years. This is in line with the data I found around U.S. vs. Canada consumer spending. Quite simply, Canadians love to spend their money on crap that they would be wise not to.

3. The Economic Impact on Personal Savings is Substantial

The U.S. personal savings rate jumped from 2.1% in 2007 (before the housing crisis) to 5.9% in 2009. I find it really interesting that when economic turmoil hits a country, personal savings rates in that country go up significantly. One has to wonder how much economies further suffer as a result of people hunkering down and reducing their spending.

4. The French Really Know how to Save

The French, who hit a 16% personal saving rate in 2010, have averaged over 15% per year since at least 2005. This makes them the most consistent savers of any industrialized country. That’s a bit surprising when you consider how high France income tax rates are (3rd highest).

5. The Danish do Not

The Danish have had a negative personal savings rate since at least 2005 and were the only country, on average, to achieve this feat in 2013. What’s the deal? Maybe their spending all of their earnings on Hasselhoff memorabilia. Oh wait, that’s Germany. No excuse, Danes.

Discussion on Personal Savings Rate by Country

  • Do some of these findings surprise you?
  • Do you feel better or worse about the U.S. personal savings rate after seeing this.
  • What do you think the average personal savings rate should be in the U.S.?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


17 Comments »
  • It was rough times in Ireland 20 years ago with unemployment in the 20%+ level. We will never forget, and that is why we save so much.

    Go USA!

    • Marion says:

      Sadly enough, I do not believe Americans will keep up this paltry level of personal savings longer than 3-4 years. This is my personal opinion, but Americans have a bad habit of having selective amnesia, especially when it comes to remembering hard and painful times. Once this economy starts showing a healthy upturn, I think things will go back to the way they were before. Of course my opinion is not isolated to the US. I think this will be a global pattern.

      It will be very interesting to see the statistics in 5 years. Will people have learned their lesson? I don’t think so, but time will tell.

  • James Bialek says:

    This is interesting and certainly worth digging into. In addition to knowing more details about how these statistics are calculated, it’s also important to consider how the availability of social benefits affects these numbers.

    Another thing to consider is culture. I live in Taiwan where collectivism and family are paramount. Here, your children are a substantial investment in your retirement. It’s very much expected that children take care of their parents in old age. Compare this to the extreme individualism of Americans who are (relatively) left on their own. So here, your IRA is sending your kids for private English, Math and Chinese lessons to stay ahead. I wonder what my education would have been like if my parents thought of me as their ticket to retirement.

    Then consider the availability of social benefits in foreign countries. When I was a student in Europe a few years ago, I was surprised at just how much money people get from the government throughout the course of their lives. For example, money from the government because you are a university student. Pretty cushy compared to our system. And this was in a country where university tuition is unheard of.

    In light of all this, it is amazing how little Americans are investing in their futures. It looks like our lessons about living within our means need yet to be realized.

    Awesome blog, I really enjoy it.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Good point on education. I have heard this as well. It’s really a shame that today’s student is forced to graduate with an undergrad degree $100K in debt. Prices at a local university have gone up over 100% in just the last decade. We’re quickly pricing our young out of the possibility of getting an education while students in Europe can graduate debt free.

  • Ryan says:

    You forget to mention that countries such as Canada, the UK and Poland have higher tax rates, and thus, are expected to receive better government retirement benefits. Therefore, I would imagine the effective retirement savings rate to be much higher.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Not necessarily true. The U.S. includes 401K contributions, but not Social Security. So government entitlement programs are not included.

      • Gerard says:

        I think you’re missing the poster’s point, though (unless I’m missing yours). None of the countries include taxation in the savings rate. But countries like Denmark and Canada have more generous government-operated pension and healthcare plans than the US. An American retiring after (say) 30 years of minimum-wage labour, who wants complete health coverage (say, $5000 a year?) and a basic lifestyle that costs $15,000 a year, will need savings of $393,000 (at 3% “safe” withdrawal rate). The same Canadian will need savings of… just a sec… nothing.
        That’s not to say that we Canadians are making SMART choices these days, though. I completely understand why people would choose not to save (fixed 5-year mortgages are under 3% right now, and housing prices keep increasing), but eventually we’ll pay the same price Americans have.

        • damien says:

          Old Age Security and government basic pension in Canada are not enough. People are required to rely on the company pension plan (which is disappearing) or on their own RRSP (the equivalent of 401K).

          I cannot say for health care, but for pensions, I think Canadians are not saving enough. They are counting too much on the value of their house (risky bet).

  • Cécile says:

    Haha, I am French, and I approve this post.
    More seriously, thanks, I think it’s really interesting to see how things work in other countries. I have been living in the US for 3 years now, I’m still discovering things every day ;-)

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I am proud of my fellow Americans for keeping this current rate of savings that we do considering that our country probably has more selections of goods available to us than anywhere else in the world. Lots of temptation indeed.

  • Francis says:

    As an Australian reading an American blog, it is very interesting to hear you say that Americans graduate with average 100K education debt.

    I have one more year of Masters to go (Bachelors + Hons + Masters) but at this time I only have 8K debt, which is negligible in comparison.

    • John says:

      As another Australian, I graduated from a Diploma course with no debt. Nothing like a Masters. But still, my entire course was capped at $1,500 per year. The government paid for any costs above that as I was not working at the time.

  • Dan - BankVibe says:

    Very cool report! Funny how the Irish know how to save their individual incomes yet their government is inline for an EU bailout….

  • Sean Brunnock says:

    Americans aren’t saving more so much as lenders have been taking uncollectable debt off their books. For example, if an American walks away from a mortgage, that’s considered less debt, hence more “savings”.

  • Bill Billson says:

    The problem is that saving in the U.S. just doesn’t pay at the moment (and hasn’t for almost 15 years). I remember as a kid getting a $500 24-month certificate of deposit at a local bank for my 12th birthday, which paid a whopping 9% interest. Now, with ten times that much money you’re lucky to get 2%, and you pay a penalty to withdraw early. Regular bank accounts pay hardly anything, if anything at all–of the three I have, one pays nothing, and the other two pay less than half a percent APY.

  • Vinayak Marwah says:

    If you think of it Household Saving Rate doesn’t mean a lot about emerging risk alone. I mean if you combine this observation with average household debt (leverage) then it should become a powerful indicator. Think about it low saving rate doesn’t really equate to high debt rate or vice versa.

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