Fulford, Scott. “The precaution of the rich and poor”. Boston College Working Papers in Economics 814, 2012.
Do households use savings to buffer against income fluctuations? Despite its common use to understand household savings decisions, the evidence for the buffer-stock model is surprisingly weak and inconsistent. This paper develops new testable implications based on a property of the model that the assets that households target for precautionary reasons should encapsulate all preferences and risks and the target should scale one for one with permanent income. I test these implications using the Survey of Consumer Finances in the United States. Those with incomes over $60,000 fit the model predictions very well, but below $60,000 households become increasingly precautionary. Income uncertainty is unrelated to the level of precaution. Moreover, households hold substantially weaker precautionary tendencies than standard models with yearly income shocks predict. Instead I propose and estimate a model of monthly disposable income shocks and a minimum subsistence level that can accommodate these findings.