Can't save? Experts suggest you 'think small'

Posted: Friday, August 02, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- While some people are worried about what the stock market's volatility is doing to their savings, many others are worried because they aren't saving at all.

How should you get started? ''Think small'' is the suggestion from groups formed in recent years to encourage Americans to save.

Take that $3.50 latte you drink each morning at work, for example. Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, points out that if you switch to regular coffee, you could save $2 a day, or $520 a year.

If that sounds like peanuts, consider this: If you deposit $520 a year in an account earning a modest 6 percent interest, you'll end up with nearly $21,300 in 30 years -- after taxes.

Don't drink latte? How about setting aside your pocket change every day, even if it's just 50 cents. That's $15 a month, $180 a year -- and nearly $7,400 after it has earned interest for 30 years.

''Many less affluent people don't think they can build wealth,'' Brobeck said. ''Our goal is to convince them that they can.''

The federation sponsors the America Saves campaign, partnering nationally with the black entertainment network BET.com and locally with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, financial institutions and government agencies.

Its Web site at www.americasaves.org suggests a dozen ways to nickel and dime yourself to a sizable savings account, along with strategies -- such as automatic transfer of money from paycheck to savings each month -- to help your savings grow faster.

It couldn't happen soon enough for some people. An estimated one in 12 American households has ''negative wealth,'' which means debts exceed assets, Brobeck said. And the nation's savings rate, while on the rise in recent months, still averages less than 3 percent of after-tax income.

Without savings, families have trouble handling financial emergencies. It's hard even to think about buying a home, sending children to a good university or living comfortably in retirement.

Derek T. Dingle, executive editor of Black Enterprise magazine, heads up its Black Wealth Initiative, another program aimed at encouraging savings. People join the program by signing the ''declaration of financial empowerment'' at www.blackenterprise.com.

''So many people felt that to save, you had to have a high income,'' Dingle said. ''But one actionable step per day or per week or per month can get you on the path to saving.''

Those who sign the pledge -- and more than 100,000 people have done so to date -- promise to save 10 percent to 15 percent of their after-tax income and to adopt sound budget and credit practices.

Dingle also supports the Start Out Saving program, sponsored by the GE Center for Financial Learning at www.financiallearning.com. It offers these small savings steps:

-- $5 a day by brown-bagging your lunch.

-- $5 a week by buying five fewer lottery tickets.

-- $15 a month by renting a movie instead of going to the theater.

-- $5 a week by smoking one less pack of cigarettes.

-- $30 a week by eating home one night instead of going out.

-- $20 a month by doing your own manicures.

Cheri Meyer, director of the Choose to Save program, said it began in 1998 as a way ''to raise public awareness of the need to plan and save for the future.''

Today the program, sponsored by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute and the American Savings Education Council, does extensive advertising and media promotion. Its Web site at www.choosetosave.org has more than 130 calculators that consumers can use to determine everything from what their savings will earn over time to how to pay down debt and how to plan for retirement.

''It's a big step from saying 'I need to save' to actually starting to save,'' Meyer said. ''Sometimes small steps can help get people over that hump.''

The sooner people start, the better, she added: ''People shouldn't underestimate what saving even $10 a week or $20 a week will get them over time.''



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