When it comes to saving, we talk a good game

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Americans say they enjoy saving money, but they certainly aren't acting like it.

According to Gallup's most recent Economy and Personal Finance poll, 62% of Americans say they enjoy saving money more than spending it, while only 34% say they enjoy spending it more than saving.

That's the widest saving-spending gap since Gallup starting tracking Americans' preferences back in 2001.

This suggests that we Americans have shifted our mindset toward viewing savings as a more enjoyable behavior than spending, notes Gallup.

But while we may say we enjoy saving, Interest.com's 2014 Savings Opportunity Study shows we simply aren't doing it.

And it's not because we lack the means to stash away some cash.

The study looked at median family income and median family expenses in 18 major metropolitan areas around the United States.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it found that families earning the median income in every city but one should have money to save — often lots of money — if they limited their spending to their area's median cost of living.

But the actual median savings rate in every city measured was zero. That's for retirement plans and basic savings accounts. Zilch.

Americans’ enjoyment of saving and spending

Age Spending money Saving money
18-29 33% 64%
30-49 37% 61%
50-64 34% 63%
65+ 34% 62%
Annual income
Less than $20,000 21% 73%
$20,000-$29,000 37% 62%
$30,000-$49,000 39% 59%
$50,000-$74,000 41% 58%
$75,000+ 36% 63%

Source: Gallup Economy and Personal Finance poll

We should note that a median savings rate of zero doesn’t mean that there aren't some people putting money into savings. Some people are.

What it means is that the median contribution, the amount in the middle of the range of savings contributions, was zero.

“We found that, no matter where we live, even in expensive cities like Boston and San Francisco, many of us have a surprising opportunity for saving we aren’t taking advantage of,” said Mike Sante, Interest.com’s managing editor.

The only exception to that rule is in Phoenix, where median expenses are actually $1,136 higher than median incomes, leaving no money for saving, according to the study.

But no other city in the study has an excuse.

The Baltimore metropolitan area, for example, has the greatest savings opportunity.

It has the second-highest median household income at $73,816, with median expenses of $49,566, leaving $24,250 to sock away annually.

If Baltimore residents saved that much every year, they'd more than meet the 10% to 20% savings rate that many financial advisers recommend saving annually.

The opportunity to save is there, but the typical household allows certain expenses to swell beyond the median costs for their city.

At least we know that we have the means to build financial security — the cost of living hasn't outrun median incomes, even in the largest cities.

But having a savings-oriented mindset just isn't enough. We truly have to save, making it a habit that we can never kick.

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