Saving money might be hard, but it can kick off a lifetime of financial security and even long-term happiness

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  • Maintaining a savings account is the foundation for financial security.
  • Without one, all it takes is one unplanned expense or unforeseen job loss to throw you off course.
  • If your necessary expenses are covered and there’s cash left over, saving it is the best option.
  • Plus, research shows that financial security contributes greatly to happiness.
  • This article is part of a series focused on millennial financial empowerment called Master your Money.

Uncertainty should be in the running for buzzword of 2020.

The pandemic hit Americans unexpectedly and hard, resulting in millions of job layoffs, an especially turbulent stock market, and more talk of “stimulus” than most of us had heard in a decade.

Now we’re experiencing the beginning of an economic recovery that widens the gap between workers at the top and bottom of the pay scale.

According to Business Insider and Insider Intelligence’s “Master Your Money Invest & Thrive Survey,” which was conducted in July and sampled 2,020 millennials (defined as ages 21 to 38), nearly 20% of respondents said they didn’t feel secure in their financial situation.

About 22% said they felt somewhat secure, 32% feel moderately secure, 17% feel very secure, and 10% feel extremely secure.

Perhaps the meaning of financial security has changed for you during this crisis, but one truth remains: If you can afford to, saving money is always a good idea.

Saving money isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary

The “Invest & Thrive” survey also found that millennials often think they don’t make enough money to save and, therefore, enough to invest. From a simple numbers perspective, you can afford to save money if your household’s basic necessities — food, shelter, healthcare — are covered and there’s money left over.

But it’s worth noting even for people who have money left over, there are psychological factors at play too. Socking away money for an unknown crisis, instead of spending the cash on a dinner out with friends or flights to see family, might feel like too much of a sacrifice at the moment. 

Plus, research shows that many of us suffer from present bias, the tendency to overemphasize the importance of today’s needs and wants and underemphasize events or expenses in the future.

Still, a cash reserve that’s kept out of financial markets and easily accessible is the foundation on which financial security can exist. Without one, all it takes is one unplanned expense or job loss to throw you off course.

Financial security is built on savings, and even contributes to overall happiness

While an emergency fund may not rescue you from every crisis — particularly if it lasts beyond the expert-recommend three to six months of cash savings — it is still your first line of defense.

When asked if they had an emergency fund, 57% of the millennial survey respondents said yes. Separately, when asked how much they were putting into a savings account each month, 25% said they didn’t have a savings account and another 5% said they were not saving any money.

Yet everyone needs a bail-out fund. Not only does it protect your financial health, it improves your mental health too.

In an interview with The Atlantic, New York Times best-selling author and happiness researcher Dan Buettner said financial security “really does deliver more happiness over time than most anything that money can be spent on — after your needs are taken care of and you maybe treat yourself occasionally.”

In 2010, while promoting his book “Thrive: Finding Happiness The Blue Zones Way,” Buettner told NPR that actions such as buying insurance and — yes — signing up for an automatic savings plan are hallmarks of financial security, which has “three times greater impact on our happiness than just income alone.” 

And remember that no amount is too small when it comes to saving money. If you have to build your emergency fund $10 at a time, it’s far better than nothing.