By Jason Alderman
After four years of coping with a stagnant economy, probably the last thing you want to hear is how important it is to sock away money for a rainy day – you already know that. But hear me out, just in case.
Those who struggle with long-term unemployment or under-employment often simply don’t have spare cash available to save. Others, worn out by years of being frugal, just want to buy things again.
Even as we wait for economic recovery it’s still good to remember – or perhaps learn for the first time – why saving is so vital:
- You could lose your job or see your wages cut. Most financial experts recommend having at least six to nine months’ income saved for emergencies, but even $500 could help bail you out of a sticky situation.
- Medical care, retirement and college tuition far outpace inflation. In fact, the average college graduate now carries $25,000 in outstanding loans – debt that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy and has no statute of limitations.
- If you’re approaching or in retirement, your net worth has probably been hammered by plummeting home and retirement account values in recent years.
- If nothing else, you can teach your children good financial habits that will serve them well during hard times.
So where can you learn sound savings habits? One great resource is America Saves (www.americasaves.org), a national campaign sponsored by more than 1,000 non-profit, government and corporate organizations. Their goal is to encourage people from all income levels to save money and build personal wealth using their free financial tools, savings services, advice and other resources, including:
- A Personal Wealth Estimator that helps you calculate your current net worth and estimate your future net worth.
- Monthly Savings Messages from national financial experts on topics such as money management, investment basics, building wealth through home ownership, saving during tax time and getting out of debt.
- Tips for saving money on everything from groceries to utilities to insurance premiums.
- Links to numerous websites offering financial education materials.
Last year, more than 2,000 organizations, including non-profits, employers, government agencies, educational institutions and unions participated in the fifth annual America Saves Week, reaching millions of Americans – everything from local banks offering low-fee savings accounts and higher-rate CDs to new savers, to free tax preparation assistance and credit counseling, to worldwide Military Saves drives to encourage savings by military families.
This year’s America Saves Week, “Set a Goal, Make a Plan, Save Automatically,” is slated for Feb. 19-26.
Here are some great ways to start saving that first $500:
- Direct deposit part or all of your federal tax refund into a savings account or savings bond.
- Avoid overdraft and late fees by regularly monitoring your bank and credit card accounts.
- Brown-bag it to work more often. If you saved $5 a week, you’d be half-way there.
- Kick bad habits. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day might cost $2,000-plus a year.
- If you have low-deductible homeowners, renters or auto insurance, consider raising the deductible to $500 or $1,000. Many save 15 to 30 percent or more on their premiums.
- Saving can be a tough habit to start, but once you’re hooked, you’ll never go back.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
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