Just how do you calculate your savings rate?

Since I started up a savings and retirement blog, with a focus on early retirement and financial independence I have calculated my savings rate the same way.  Like The Rock lining up for a bare knuckle brawl with Danny DeVeto, I never gave it a second thought.  That was until, crying while cutting onions one evening, my mind drifted to the calculation of your saving rate and whether I was doing it right.

Googling “how to calculate your savings rate” or “how to calculate your personal savings rate” comes up with a lot of hits from Banks and other companies offering savings products, advice on tax calculations or methods to calculate it from an economic stand point.

Up to now I have simply been calculating my savings rate as;

(Total saved) / (Net Salary)

Where the Net Salary wasn’t just my take home pay, but my take home plus my pension contributions plus Share Option payments.  I guess you could use something like Salary Calculator to work out your Net Salary if your payslip is a whirlwind of complexity.

But here is the sneaky bit.  I was taking the amount saved as;

Total saved = (Total pension contribution + Share Options + Cash Saving)

So am I inflating the amount saved by my employers contribution towards my pension?



Example time
Let’s have a look at some examples.  We will take Miguel as an example.

  • Gross Salary per month: £2,167
  • Employees Pension Contribution : 5% (£108)
  • Net Salary (before pension contribution): £1,720
  • Employeers Contribution : 5% (£108)
  • Other monthly Savings: £300

The Simple Method
No mucking about with this fella.  It is simply;

(Total amount saved) / (Gross Pay)

Take your total saving in the month (or year) and divide it by your gross salary, where to total amount saved includes the employers contribution to a company pension.

But this doesn’t seem entirely fair as you will incur tax on your gross pay, and we don’t want to encourage tax avoidance in order to impress people on PF blogs with our nice savings rate, now do we?

So for Miguel – (£300 + £108*2) / (£2,167) = 24%

The Flattering Cheating Finance Zombie Method
Want to make your savings percentage look better?  Then use this one;

(Total amount saved) / (Net Pay)

Where total amount saved includes the employers contribution to your company pension (if you have one) but your Net Pay doesn’t include this.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuut, if we were lucky enough to have no outgoings and we saved every penny, then we could have a savings rate in excess of 100%.  Mighty impressive…

But for Miguel – (£300 + £108*2) / (£1,720) = 30%

This gives a higher rate than the gross method, by some way.

The Fairer Method
Let’s make things a bit fairer by including an adjustment for the employers contribution to a company pension.

(Total amount saved) / (Net pay + Employers contribution)

This seems a bit more reflective of reality now.

So for Miguel – (£300 + £108*2) / (£1,720 + £108) = 28%

So a bit lower but perhaps a little fairer.

The Free Cash Method
There is an argument that certain expenses are unavoidable and so shouldn’t come into this calculation. They are sunk cost, for example rent, food, toiletries, bills, petrol, whisky etc, (after all we have had a similar argument for tax).  You could define your savings rate on an adjusted take home, e.g. your net pay less any essential expenditure.  This would then be your free (or discretionary) cash.

Our savings rate would then be;

(Total amount saved) / (Free cash)

Lets say that Miguel has payments for rent, food, toiletries, bills, petrol etc that total £1,000.  This would set his free cash in the month at £1,720 (his net pay before pension) less £1,000.  So £720 being the maximum that he could save after tax and essential spending.

So for Miguel – (£300 + £108*2) / (£1,720 – £1,000) = 72%

This gives us the best rate, let’s stick with this one…  Actually no.  I’m not so sure that this is a great measure.  For one it doesn’t make us challenge certain expenditure, for example our spending on food.  You could also have the same problem as earlier, where the savings rate is in excess of 100% (if you saved all your free cash plus employers contribution to your pension).

Also, how do we define what should be included in the non-discretionary expenditure?  Bills and food are essential but we can still look to reduce them.  What if Miguel wants to argue that his Audi is an essential expenditure?  Or his expensive whisky habit.

You could also arrive in the situation where you class everything as essential expenditure and have £1 in free cash.  Saving 80p of this would give you a savings rate of 80% and make you feel like a right FI hero.  When you would just be a mug.

In summary

It’s easy to see that tweaking the formula for our savings rate can have some pretty big impact on the numbers;


But Mr Zombie, does it really matter?  Probably not.  As long as you are consistent from month to month and you are making improvements.  The Free Cash Method may give you the most inspiring numbers, but that doesn’t mean much if in reality we are only saving 2% of our actual take home.

The difference between the Flattering Method and the Fair Method one isn’t as much as I thought it would be, although it would obviously change depending on your circumstances.

I’m going to stick with the flattering method for this year, as that’s what my savings rate goal for 2015 has been set on.  So after all that, I’ll change nothing.  It’s fun making simple things complicated, isn’t it?

Any thoughts on how you calculate your savings rate or percentage?

EDIT: after all this I found this post by TFS.  Which is much more eloquent and actually comes to a conclusion unlike my sporadic chirping above.

Spend less, save more and escape the Horde

Mr Z

11 thoughts on “Just how do you calculate your savings rate?

  1. weenie

    Hi Mr Z

    I think the calculation of savings rate is like that of calculating your net worth – there are so many different ways and none of them are wrong – the main thing is probably to just pick a calculation and stick to it!

    The calculation by TFS seems to be all encompassing but I prefer to just keep it simple:

    Total amount saved / Net Pay

    Where:

    Net Pay is the amount that hits my bank account on pay day.

    Total amount is what I've squirrelled away that month.

    This does mean that I'm totally disregarding savings I've made to my company pension but I'm on a defined benefit pension so I don't exactly have a company 'pension pot', as my pension will be based on my final salary.

    Reply
  2. No More Waffles

    Mr Zombie,

    Interesting post! I can imagine it being quite a bit more difficult for people receiving an employer contribution when contributing to their retirement accounts.

    To calculate my savings rate I take the sum of my monthly income (source doesn't matter), my total expenses, and divide one by the other. Because we don't have retirement accounts in Belgium, it's quite a bit easier (although I receive a government pension when I reach the legal retirement age – as such, I'm actually 'saving' quite a bit more).

    Great post!

    Cheers,
    NMW

    Reply
  3. Mr Zombie

    Hi Weenie,
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Yeah – consistency is key! Was surprised how different the rates were.
    I guess it is kind of hard to track contributions towards a DB scheme, at least in a way that is comparable to your other savings…
    Thanks,
    MrZ

    Reply
  4. Mr Zombie

    Hi NMW,
    Thanks for stopping by and your comment.
    Yeah – the contributions do make it a little more complicated – or there are more options for calculations!
    So you could have a savings rate of >100%?
    There is no personal pensions in Belgium? Only what you can save and invest yourself? (Plus to gov't pension)
    Cheers,
    Mr Z

    Reply
  5. Theres Value

    You're right zombie, there are so many ways to calculate this. Monevator and the fire starter have both posted at length about it.

    I don't calculate my savings rate at all, as it fluctuates quite a lot per month, so I just can't be bothered. However, thanks to you, I've doing my net worth (with house value according to zoopla, even though it's way underestimated) every two weeks.

    Cheers

    Reply
  6. No More Waffles

    Mr. Z,

    Our pension system is based on three pillars:

    1. Government pension: you build this through your active working years and it is based on your gross salary.

    2. Employer pension: not every employers offers a pension, but the vast majority of them does. It can be anything they want, but it's quite strongly regulated by the government.

    3. Personal pension fund: I'm actually using this, but it has a limit of €940 every year and only offers a 30% tax-back. Other than that, it's completely similar to normal savings and brokerage accounts.

    As you can see, if I want to reach financial independence before the legal retirement age, I'll have to do so without the help of tax-free or tax-deferred accounts.

    Best wishes,
    NMW

    Reply
  7. Theres Value

    I've come back to this post, as I would like to start calculating our monthly savings rate… although since you provided so many different options, I don't really know which one to go with (the fair one, probably). But my income fluctuates every month, and I also get paid weekly so that is kind of confusing too… any pointers?

    Cheers

    Reply

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