Think you’ve got more month than money?  If you always seem to use up your paycheck well before you can even think about depositing money into a savings or retirement account, you’re not alone. Depending on which study you look at, more than a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings; a third of us don’t spend less than we make and save the difference; and less than half of the nation’s adults feel “very secure” with their financial situation. Now comes a new analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data from Its conclusion: the median savings rate in the U.S. is a big fat zero.

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t have to be like this.

Yes, wages are stagnant and yes, the cost of living keeps getting higher. However, the same analysis that determined the median savings rate is zero also determined that in 17 of the nation’s 18 largest metropolitan areas, a family with the median income should be able to cover median expenses, with something left to save.  The exception, surprisingly, wasn’t a famously pricey area like San Francisco or New York, but Phoenix, where living costs are somewhat lower but where, after getting hit hard by the recession, incomes are low, too.

After crunching BLS data on median household spending on housing, transportation, food, debt payments and even cable bills,’s analysts found that monthly surpluses can range from $18 to $2,021, creating annual savings opportunities that range from $212 (in the Miami metropolitan area) all the way to $24,250 (like in the Baltimore metropolitan area).

“We think the results are pretty encouraging, actually. We thought the cost of living in some cities was so high that a savings opportunity wouldn’t be there,” Mike Sante, an analyst at, said in a recent phone interview. Instead, in all of the cities surveyed other than Phoenix, the median cost of living fell under the median after-tax income, meaning that residents in those cities should have money left over to save at the end of the month. (Sante said that the analysts worked with BLS medians, not averages, because they felt it gave a better representation of what people are actually spending, rather than letting an outlier significantly increase a spending average. They also worked with after-tax incomes in order to get a sense of the funds households actually had available to spend and not just their on-paper salary.)

The Baltimore metropolitan area – defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as the city of Baltimore plus six surrounding counties – scored as the area with the top savings opportunity: per the BLS data, the median after-tax income for the area is $73,815 but median annual expenditures total $49,566, leaving $24,250 left over at the end of every year. In second place was the Washington D.C. metro area, where median annual expenditures of $65,802 are $19,967 short of the $ 85,769 median after-tax income; coming in third was Cleveland, where the $34,248 spent annually leaves a $15,524 savings opportunity. Rounding out the top five are Chicago, where there is a $10,514 annual savings opportunity, and Dallas and its $9,264 annual savings opportunity.

On a monthly basis, these large sums of money work out to slightly smaller but not insignificant sums ranging from $2,021 to $767. Looking at your own life – your mortgage or rent payments, your car or monthly subway pass, your food needs and your debt payments – it might be hard to see how in the world you can come up with an extra $100 per month much less an extra $2,000. And indeed, if your income falls below the median and/or your monthly expenditures are significantly above the median in your area, achieving a surplus comparable to that which has calculated might be difficult. However, Sante says the point of doing the analysis was simply to see if the cost of living in parts of the country (specifically, parts of the country that had enough statistically significant data to be analyzed) outpaced median expenditures. And that it didn’t (in almost every case) gives Sante reason to be optimistic about the findings rather than despondent about how little people are saving.

“There’s a potential there to save, to at least save more than we’re doing now, and invest more than we’re doing now,” he said, noting that the reason many people are overspending their income isn’t because people are going out for too many lattes, but because they’ve over-extended themselves on some of the bigger-ticket items. “People have to be wiser decisions about the big budget items.  We’ve gotta move past the whole ‘at Starbucks skip the latte.’ That’s nice but it’s not going to get the job done.”

Citing a recent survey that found that 1 in 4 homeowners regret buying their home, Sante noted that a lot of people need to get a lot better about buying a home that fits their budget, rather than stretching a paycheck to cover a dream home with those dream granite countertops – or worse, using a raise as an excuse to raise a lifestyle.

Read more: The Best Places To Live If You Want Extra Money At The End Of The Month

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