Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management Rutgers Cooperative Extension
There is no better time to commit to a savings plan than during the first four months of every year. Between New Year’s resolutions, income tax season, the Save Your Refund contest, the 52-Week Money Challenge, America Saves Week, Global Money Week, Financial Literacy Month, and Money Smart Week, there is no shortage of educational and motivational activities. Like many goals in life, saving money begins in your mind, not your wallet. A firm commitment to save on a regular basis, combined with a realistic action plan, is required. What people think about, they bring about! In other words, when we want something bad enough, we generally figure out a way to get it. Saving money generally requires earning additional income and/or reducing household expenses. Savers should also set specific goals so they have a reason and motivation to save. A simple goal-setting worksheet can be found at http://njaes.rutgers.edu/money/pdfs/goalsettingworksheet.pdf. For a retirement savings calculation, use the Ballpark Estimate calculator. To identify strategies to help people save money, the Cooperative Extension System held a one-hour Twitter chat and Google Hangout video chat about saving money (#eXASchat) during America Saves Week 2015. This article summarizes information that was shared about ways to “find” money to save, where to save, saving resources and role models, and other topics. Participants were asked to describe the one single best thing that people can do to save money. Responses included avoiding expensive impulse buying, automatic transfers from a checking to savings account, participating in a 401(k) plan and receiving an employer match, saving $1 a day, plus loose change, in a jar, and ramping up already positive behaviors (e.g., saving 5% of pay in a 401(k) plan instead of 4% of pay). Plugging spending leaks was also mentioned. For example, saving $5 a day on junk food snacks, soda, coffee, lottery tickets, etc. translates to $1,825 a year, plus interest. Another question was where to put savings. One tweeter noted that the best location for savings depends upon a person’s financial goals and their time frame. Short-term goal savings options include credit unions and online banks for the best interest rates (expressed as an annual percentage yield or APY), a certificate of deposit (CD) “ladder” with different CD maturity dates and interest rates, saving loose change, and the popular 52-Week Money Challenge where you start week #1 saving $1 and ramp up your savings $1 a week until you’re saving $52 during the final week, for a total of $1,378. The link for the challenge is http://walton.ifas.ufl.edu/fcs/files/2014/01/52-Week-Money-Challenge.pdf. Resources for saving money that were mentioned by #eXASchat participants included the America Saves program, Cooperative Extension, the federal government MyMoney.gov website, and the New York Times’ 1% More Savings Calculator. Savings role models include parents, teachers, financially responsible siblings and friends, reformed over-spenders who turned their financial life around, and celebrities who espouse good financial habits and charitable gifting. Other valuable money-saving tips shared during #eXASchat included: boosting your income by being visible and valuable at work, selling things you no longer need online and/or at garage sales, using your knowledge and skills to obtain side jobs, packing a bag lunch instead of eating out, reducing home energy use, shopping for clothes and home furnishings at thrift and consignment shops, and negotiating price discounts by asking “Is this the best price available?” Clearly, financial literacy is power! Many studies have confirmed linkages between financial knowledge and positive financial behavior such as reducing debt and saving for future financial goals. Resolve to learn one new thing every day about personal finance. In addition, “pay yourself first.” Save part of your income, preferably automatically, before you get a chance to spend it.