The government shutdown dominated headlines for much of the new year, and the news media seemingly explored every related issue. But the shutdown brought to fore one issue in particular that has for years plagued Americans, though it’s probably not the first issue to come to mind.

In fact, it has little to do with politics at all.

Many Americans don’t have enough money saved to weather an emergency, not even for a missed paycheck or two.

Cherrie Stonerock (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)

And unfortunately for federal workers, this reality was put on display for the country to see, as many of the 800,000 workers furloughed during the shutdown struggled to make ends meet while they were held out of work.

This isn’t to cast any aspersions on government employees. If you think federal workers are any different than an average American, or average Oregonian for that matter, think again.

Only 29 percent of respondents for a 2018 survey by Bankrate had enough money saved to cover their expenses in an emergency for six months or more. Another 18 percent had enough for a loss of income for three to five months. Alarmingly, 23 percent of Americans had no savings at all.

Government data on the U.S. personal savings rate backs this up, too. The savings rate hovered just above 6 percent for most of 2018, and it has been trending lower. To put that into perspective, Western Europeans save at a rate of better than 10 percent.

So what can be done?

As interest rates rise, many forward-thinking local financial institutions in Oregon have begun to tailor products to encourage more saving, which will, in turn, help Oregonians better withstand market fluctuations, a loss of a job, an illness, or anything else that might hamper one’s income.

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Some have lowered minimum deposits for products such as share certificates, to put those savings vehicles in reach for a broader range of savers. Some have gotten more flexible, too, with offers like interest rate bumps for share certificates, a higher-interest alternative to conventional savings accounts.

The idea is simply to pull savings-minded consumers off the fence by offering more options, better returns, and lowering the bar of entry.

Financial institutions are not alone. The state has also been busy trying to make saving easier, with programs such as OregonSaves, a state-run retirement savings program.

Of course, financial institutions and government programs can only do so much.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to commit to saving more of their income in a concerted effort to be ready for whatever the future may bring – both unforeseen and predictable.

The hardest part is convincing ourselves that we can find ways to save just a bit more. It’s understandable. Still, we’ve all heard the lectures over the years about forsaking a luxury or two in an effort to squeeze a bit more of our income into our savings.

An emergency can come at any time. Which is why we would all be well-served to heed the lessons learned during the shutdown and find ways to save more.

Cherrie Stonerock is the Salem branch manager of SELCO Community Credit Union. You can reach her at cstonerock@selco.org

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