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Which Europeans saved and spent the most in 2021?

N26 data indicates that Spanish customers saved more in 2021 than their European counterparts—and European women were better at saving than men. For more saving and spending insights, read on.

13 min read

If you’ve ever struggled to stick to a savings goal, you may already suspect that the human brain is not hardwired for savings success. 

“Our brains have not developed for the purpose of making clever financial decisions,” explains Professor Dr. Mira Fauth-Bühler, neuroscientist and professor of economic psychology and neuroeconomics at FOM University of Applied Sciences for Economics and Management in Stuttgart, Germany. This is not to say that saving money requires going against human nature—but Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler suggests that we need to conceive of saving in a way our brains respond to. “We are wired to seek rewards,” she says. “The question is whether we are willing to wait for […] an incentive that’s big enough to cover the cost of waiting.”

Of course, your incentive to save may vary depending on any number of factors—your age, your gender, even the country you live in. And this was perhaps never more true than in 2021, the second year of a global pandemic that posed new and unique challenges for every demographic to navigate. 

To get to the bottom of how consumers in Europe’s biggest economies saved and spent money in 2021 we analyzed N26 consumer data from the four largest European markets we do business in: Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Our findings suggest that customers in Spain were the most efficient European savers in 2021, and that European women were generally better at saving than men.

Read on to see the key takeaways from our study and explore more insights about how different Europeans saved in 2021.

Key study takeaways

The following insights are based on an analysis of spending and saving habits of N26 customers¹ from January 2021 to December 2021: 

  • Spanish savers were more efficient than their counterparts in Germany, Italy, and France in 2021. The average monthly share of savings to overall income for Spain was 23%, compared to 18% for Germany, 16% for Italy, and 6% for France.
  • N26 customers in Barcelona and Madrid saved an average of 21% of their monthly income—more than residents of any other major city in our study. Customers in Munich came in third place with 20% of their monthly income stashed away in savings. 
  • French customers overall saved less than half of what other European customers saved. This trend was most prominent in the city of Marseille, where customers saved just 2% of their monthly income on average.
  • Even though men earn more than women on average, women in most age groups outshine men when it comes to monthly savings. This is particularly notable in the age group 30-34, where women save on average 32% more than men (€75.96), while earning a whopping 26% (€368.42) less.
  • Spending on average was highest in December and November, while the majority of users saved the most money in March. An uptick in shopping over the holidays may explain why spending ticked upward to close out the year.

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Saving habits in 2021: A country-by-country comparison

Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler explains that the control system of the brain helps to suppress the momentary urges that cause us to fall short of our savings goals. She compares it to a CEO, responsible for guiding the rest of the brain toward long-term objectives. 

One interesting aspect of the control system is that environmental factors can have an effect on how well it functions. 

According to Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler, these “environmental factors” may be immediate (i.e. “buying such an expensive handbag is not a good idea, if [your] savings account is already empty”), but can they also exist on a macro level? Are people in some countries whose economic and cultural environment may be different from their nearby counterparts generally more efficient savers than others?

We can’t answer this question definitively, but our savings data does point to some interesting discrepancies in the savings habits of residents across several European countries. To get a better sense of how users in Europe saved using N26, we looked at how much money they stored in their Spaces sub-accounts, as well as in their main accounts.

Prof. Dr. Mira Fauth-Bühler holding the model of a plastic brain.

German saving habits in 2021

In 2021, N26 users in Germany saved an average of €368.22 per month. With an average monthly income of €2,061.17 per user, this means that users in Germany were able to stash away about 18% of their monthly income

This is impressive—especially compared to their European neighbors! Users in Germany earned more than those in any other country we studied, and they were among the best savers, too. Only Spanish users saved more of their income (23%) in terms of percentage—and users in Germany saved more in terms of actual euros than users in any other country.

Which German cities are home to the most efficient savers? We compared three major metropolitan areas, and Munich was by far the standout—with users putting aside an outstanding €1,026.18 (20% of their income) on average per month.

  1. Munich—€1,026.18 in average monthly savings (20% of monthly income)
  2. Berlin—€449.21 in average monthly savings (19% of monthly income) 
  3. Hamburg—€320.68 in average monthly savings (14% of monthly income) 

French saving habits in 2021

In 2021, N26 users in France saved an average of €69.24 per month. So, with an average monthly income of €1,230.24 per individual, users in France saved 6% of their monthly income on average

This means that, whether due to cultural or economic reasons, users in France saved less than those in any other country we studied. This is true whether you’re looking at savings as a percentage of income or in terms of actual euros. 

N26 users in some of the more prominent French cities fared a little better than the nationwide average—but only a little. Users in Paris and Lyon managed to save 7% of their monthly income over the course of 2021. Marseille, on the other hand, ranked last among all the cities in our study. Here’s how the three cities compare:

  1. Paris—€111.19 in average monthly savings (7% of monthly income) 
  2. Lyon—€74.69 in average monthly savings (7% of monthly income) 
  3. Marseille—€26.55 in average monthly savings (2% of monthly income) 

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Italian saving habits in 2021

In 2021, N26 users in Italy saved an average of €164.58 per month. With an average monthly income of €1,016.20 per user, this means that users in Italy on average saved 16% of their monthly income

This puts users in Italy roughly in the middle of the pack relative to their European counterparts. According to our study, they saved nearly three times as much as users in France (16% vs. 6%), but they still lag considerably behind those in Spain and Germany. 

On a city-by-city level, the data gets interesting. One might expect Milan to be home to the most efficient savers in Italy, given its reputation as a global financial hub. But Roman users actually saved more efficiently than Milanese users in 2021 when considering their overall income, while users in Naples came in third:

  1. Rome—€352.00 in average monthly savings (14% of monthly income) 
  2. Milan—€428.55 in average monthly savings (13% of monthly income) 
  3. Naples—€132.64 in average monthly savings (11% of monthly income) 

Spanish saving habits in 2021

Spain is home to perhaps the biggest surprise in our study, as users in Spain saved a higher percentage of their income, on average, than users in any other country we analyzed

In 2021, N26 users in Spain saved an average of €252.00 per month, out of an average monthly income of €1,108.91. That’s a full 23% socked away for future spending!

Despite their geographic diversity, the three Spanish cities we analyzed all showed strong saving behavior. Barcelona and Madrid were equally impressive, with users in these two cities saving an average of 21% of their monthly income. Valencian users saved more in terms of actual euros, but their much higher income means that they saved a lower percentage than users in any other Spanish city:

  1. Barcelona—€302.30 in average monthly savings (21% of monthly income) 
  2. Madrid—€233.34 in average monthly savings (21% of monthly income) 
  3. Valencia—€397.49 in average monthly savings (18% of monthly income) 

Savings habits in 2021: Age and gender breakdown

Where you live is, of course, only one of the factors that may dictate your ability to save. Breaking down the data by the different age groups and self-declared genders of N26 users yielded some interesting findings. 

Here are some of the highlights:

Men earned an average of 30% more than women—but saved less

The gender gap is real—at least according to N26 users across Europe. Our 2021 data reveals that users identified as male had an average 30% higher monthly income (equaling €385.52) than users identified as female in the same age group. The biggest income gap in our study is between men and women ages 55-59—in this cohort, men earned on average 42% more than women per month.

While this indicates a frustrating persistence of gender inequality, our data also yielded a more surprising finding. Women were generally much more efficient savers, saving 22% of their monthly income, on average, versus 16% for men

Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler says that there may be neurological reasons for this. “Women have been found to have a larger control region—our brain’s ‘CEO’—than men,” she explains. Their brains, she suggests, may be “better at suppressing risky and impulsive behaviors” such as overspending and investing in high-risk, speculative assets. 

Despite the real evolutionary differences between men and women, it should be noted that gender roles continue to evolve; indeed, the very idea of binary gender roles is quickly becoming antiquated. In future years, we hope to add more necessary context and include data points for those who identify as nonbinary or genderqueer.

Older Europeans saved more than younger Europeans

Our study indicates that Europeans ages 60–64 saved more on average than those in any other age group between 18 and 65. Perhaps this is not so surprising. But what is surprising is the fact that women in this older demographic saved 11% more than their male counterparts—31% of their monthly income versus 20% for the men.

Younger Europeans generally struggled the most at saving in 2021, with men ages 20–24 saving only 9% of their monthly income. 

Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler again sees a neurological basis for this discrepancy: “The control system is one of the last regions of the brain to reach maturation,” she says. “This means achieving saving goals is naturally more difficult for younger people as the control system matures.”

She notes that this may also explain why young people are more willing to take risks and seem less interested in savings compared to older people.

How the COVID-19 pandemic affected saving habits in 2021

While we only analyzed savings data for one year, it’s worth noting that 2021 was not a “typical” year by any stretch of the imagination.

“Our value system and the priorities we set have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler. “At present, we see that people are willing to save more money and spend less—particularly for short-dated consumer goods such as clothes and shoes.”

It’s probably still too early to truly quantify the impact of the pandemic on our saving and spending behavior. But to Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler, “it seems likely that these pandemic-induced changes in our value system will be reflected somehow in our saving and spending habits—at least in the medium-term.”

5 tips on resisting the urge to spend from Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler

We asked Prof. Dr. Fauth-Bühler what consumers can do when they want to overcome the urge to spend impulsively. Here are five helpful tips she offered, edited and abridged for clarity.  

1. Don’t go shopping when you’re stressed or in a bad mood

Impulsive shopping is something we all do now and then—especially if we’re in a bad mood or feel stressed after a long day at work. In such a situation, however, it’s not a good idea to go on a shopping trip. 

The control system (‘CEO’) goes offline when we are in a bad mood or stressed. Instead, our behavior is mainly guided by older brain systems—such as the reward system. This system is involved in motivating the pursuit of rewards, such as chasing that irresistible great offer promising “two t-shirts for the price of one.”

2. Don’t default to using a credit card for every purchase 

Common sense tells us that we spend money more easily if we use a credit card instead of money. This is supported by research findings. Using a credit card puts costs out of mind and decouples the purchase from the payment. 

In addition, by repeatedly paying for desirable goods with our credit card, our brains learn to associate the piece of plastic with a rewarding outcome through a process psychologists call “classical conditioning.” The credit card has turned into a conditioned stimulus, and thus has acquired the ability to induce “wanting” itself, as it is associated with an enjoyable purchase.

3. Don’t shop if you’re in a rush

Time pressure is the enemy of rational thinking. If we have no time to reflect on our behavior, the reward system takes over and guides our actions. 

As the reward system is not only designed to maximize rewarding outcomes, but also to initiate habit-like behaviors, it will automatically make you want to buy the super bargain. And, if you are in a similar situation in two weeks’ time, you are likely to repeat the same behavior.

4. Identify your triggers

From drug research, we know that relapsing behavior is more likely if we are faced with cues that have been associated with drug intake and drug effects. For example, having coffee in the morning may lead one to crave smoking. 

When it comes to spending money, avoiding such cues helps us to reduce craving by abolishing the automatic trigger. Try to identify the triggers or cues that cause you to spend money in an impulsive manner. Is it the sight of a bargain, or your favorite shop? 

5. Take control of your immediate environment

If you want to save money, do yourself a favor and spend a day in the forest or a park instead of strolling through the main shopping road of your city. You won’t need to expend energy trying to resist temptation elicited by the sight of your favorite clothing shop. 

With respect to online shopping, make your life as complicated as possible when it comes to ordering and paying for things. Don’t save your credit card details or activate instant payment methods, and don’t store your personal or login details for retailers. This interrupts the automatic act of buying and allows the control system to step in.

Save more in the New Year with N26

N26 is committed to providing our customers with the tools and motivation they need to reach their savings goals for 2022. With our online bank account, not only can you set daily spending limits, but you’ll also receive push notifications right after each transaction to help you keep track of your budgeting goals. And with Spaces, you’ll be able to follow in the footsteps of thousands of users and set up a separate sub-account specifically for saving. 

You can also find more savings and budgeting ideas elsewhere in our blog, where we discuss popular strategies, such as the 50-30-20 rule.

¹ The study is based on N26’s analysis of the aggregated and anonymised spending data and saving data of over 60.000 German N26 customers, 40.000 French N26 customers, 10.000 Spanish N26 customers, 20.000 Italian N26 customers, and 1.7 Million global N26 customers in the period of January to December 2021. “Spending data” is defined as money transfers going out of the survey’s participants' main bank accounts, while “saving data” is defined as money saved in the survey’s participants’ Spaces as well as main accounts 

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