If you're worried that you don't have your finances in order, you may still have time. The average American doesn't experience a "financial awakening" until the age of 33, according to new research. The most common event leading to a financial awakening is a drop in earnings caused by the loss of a job or reduction in hours (23%), with many respondents pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other common causes included a health event accompanied by loss of income or increased expenses (18%) and "A recognition of the impact of my own spending or savings behavior" (15%). Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of BOK Financial, the survey also examined Americans' confidence in planning for their financial futures. This confidence can sometimes start at home, with nearly half of respondents (46%) reporting that they discussed finances with their family members growing up. Seventy-one percent of these respondents say the discussions taught them about financial concepts, such as the importance of saving. But the outcomes of exposure to financial talk early on weren't always positive. Of those who discussed finances with their families, 70% indicated these discussions were a source of stress, but the stress influenced them in different ways. Nearly half of respondents (49%) say that these discussions made them eager to learn more about finance in order to avoid this stress in the future, while one in five said that the stress actually made them avoid learning about finances further. It's no surprise, then, that sixty-three percent of respondents say that financial matters "often" cause them stress. Forty-three percent, moreover, are even "afraid" to look at their checking or savings account balance. One in five survey respondents say they watch their checking account balance closely because they worry it will hit $0.00 before their next payday. "It is normal to feel anxious when you sense a lack of control, as happens when there is an event that negatively impacts your finances," said Kimberly Bridges, director of financial planning at BOK Financial. "Creating financial security starts with living within your means, building an emergency fund for unforeseen events, and creating a financial plan to get you on track to achieving your long-term goals." When it comes to putting money away for future needs, including retirement, on average respondents saved 9% of their salary annually - less than half of the oft-cited rule of thumb of 20%. When asked about non-retirement savings, 63% indicated they are not saving or they end up spending it on unexpected expenses. Twenty-three percent say they don't make contributions to a savings or investment account because there's never enough money after expenses. And 21% say that, while they do save, they end up using the money for unexpected expenses so it never seems to grow much. While respondents' average ideal retirement age is 57, one in five have not yet started saving for retirement. Moreover, 22% say that while they previously contributed to a retirement account, they are currently unable to do so. "In most places across the country, we don't have mandatory financial literacy programs for our kids," said Bridges. "But one thing everyone should know is that the sooner you can start saving, the better your financial trajectory will be. Greater levels of wealth and financial security can be achieved by starting earlier than by saving more in later years."
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