How We Really Feel About Money, in a Few Simple Graphs

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Wealthsimple is a whole new kind of investing service. This is the latest installment of our “Data” series, where we dig into the numbers to learn more about how the world of money works.

You already knew that we’re totally obsessed with investing, low fees, high savings rates, and really nice software. If the “I’m Obsessed With Investing and Software” t-shirt we wear every day wasn’t a sufficient tell, the Warren Buffett poster hanging above our beds is probably a giveaway. What you might not know is that the main mission of our company is to give everyone — everyone — the tools they need to gain financial freedom. And that there is one common denominator in the financial freedom equation that have nothing to do with investing philosophies or user interfaces: human beings. We're talking about you, how you feel about money, what you fear, what's important to you, and what gives you night sweats as you sit awake staring at the ceiling.

So we commissioned a survey a few months ago, conducted online by The Harris Poll — the math sorcerers responsible for the famous “Harris Poll” — to find out a little bit more about how we humans feel about money. We figured it would help us do our jobs better, and it would help you out there to understand how you fit into the world. And then we asked 2,025 American adults of all ages a battery of nosy questions about their money thoughts, worries, and habits so we could find out a little bit more about what stands between all of us and financial freedom.

And also if people would give up sex for a year if it meant they could retire by 50. Read on to find out!

When it comes to sources of stress, nothing comes close to money

While you may think, especially if you like to use Twitter, that it's politics that keeps people up at night, it turns out money is far more stressful. 33% of U.S. adults say money is their biggest stressor — a full three times the proportion who said it was politics (11%). Only 12% describe work as their biggest source of stress, and just 6% identify marriage and/or romantic relationships.

One interesting tidbit — men ages 65 or older are unusual in that they're marginally more stressed about politics than money — 23% find politics most stressful, compared to 15% who say it is money.

But the biggest surprise of the survey may be that women are more likely than men to say they're most stressed about money. 36% of women say money is their primary stressor, compared with just 29% of men.

Men are far more likely to invest

Women may be more likely than men to agonize over money, but men are more likely to be investors. We asked people if they invest in stocks, bonds, or investment products outside of an employee-sponsored retirement account like a 401(k); just 37% of women said they did, compared with 48% of men.

And it gets more pronounced among younger women. Though 92% of millennials (ages 21-37) say that they are currently saving money, just 26% of millennial women invest outside of a work-sponsored retirement plan, compared with 43% of men the same age. Why don't more people invest? Many Americans (25%), including 30% of millennials, said they're putting their money towards other important things. What could millennials be saving for? Number one is travel (36%), followed by financial independence (33%), to buy a home (32%), to buy a car (29%), retirement (29%), and to buy clothing/accessories (24%). Weddings don’t seem to be a priority; nearly twice as many millennials say they’re saving for tech gadgets (17%) than are saving for a wedding (10%).

Who is less likely to invest beyond work-sponsored retirement plans? According to our poll, women between 18-34 are far less likely than women who are 35 or older — just 24% invest versus 43%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than half of men who are 65 or older — a group that's likely to have both access to funds and time on their hands — invest their money (54%).

People don’t think the economic sky is falling, at least until 2020

By and large, Americans are optimistic about the economy in the short term. Only about a third (34%) believe that we’ll be hit with a financial crisis within the next two years. The Midwest is the most cynical region with about 22% predicting a likely crisis one to two years from now, compared with just 13% of Southerners, as well as 16% of Northeasterners and 15% of Westeners. This rosy outlook, however, evaporates in the long term. 53% of Americans believe that there will another crisis within five years, with men appearing slightly more pessimistic than women (55% vs. 51%). Men 45-54 were especially dour; a full 60% predict a major financial disruption within a five-year period.

People are willing to make sacrifices to retire early. But which sacrifices?

People generally want to retire early. Unless you are due to come into a fortune of one kind or another, though, retiring early requires some sacrifice. (Only a little if you start early enough; the later you start to save, the more sacrifice you'll have to make because you'll have less time to take advantage of the magic of compounding. But we digress!)

But what would we give up if it meant retiring early? Eating out? Streaming services? All social media? Being able to smell? (Yes we asked people about all those things.)

We expected a retirement at age 50 to be enticing. But we were still surprised by how willing people were to go without. Consider this: when asked about forgoing sex for a full year, 18% of Americans said they'd do it to retire by age 50. Which seems like a lot to us. Unsurprisingly, Americans nearing retirement age are more likely to be willing to forgo sex compared to their older counterparts; 25% of 45-54 year-olds say they’d do it compared with 8% of those 55 and older, with 18-34 year-olds not far behind, at 24%.

People know what they can do to save more money. Whether they do it or not is another story

What surprised us perhaps more, though, was the fact that more Americans would apparently be willing to give up sex for a year (18%) than would give up wearing underwear for a year (15%). Certain segments of the population are more eager to go commando than others: at 26%, men between 35-44 are open to the idea compared to only 3% of men ages 65 or over. Their sense of smell was the least appealing thing to give up; only 8% of Americans would sacrifice schnoz power for a year for the power to retire by 50.

All that data says a lot about human psychology. But when it came to stuff that would actually affect one's ability to retire early, people seem willing to get practical: almost a third (32%) said they'd give up streaming services for a year, and almost as many said they'd give up airplane travel and dining out (both 31%).

And we're also heartened by the relative willingness to kill social media accounts for the benefit of the future: 34% said they'd give up all social media for a year to retire by 50.

Wealthsimple makes smart investing simple and affordable.

Survey Method:

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Wealthsimple from April 12-16, 2018 among 2,025 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact

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