By AMY M. CARLES
With the weather putting a damper on getting out and about, now is an excellent time to review your finances. If you have not started saving, now is a good time to set a plan to start.
Did you know that only half of Americans report having good savings habits? Even if you are already saving, it is always good to take a look at your goals and decide if you can save more or start a new savings goal.
What should you save for? This is a personal decision, but there are some common areas to consider for your savings goals.
America Saves reports that nearly a quarter of those pledging to save chose saving for emergencies as their first wealth-building goal. Only 37 percent of low-to-moderate income households have a savings or money market account at a financial institution.
Saving for education is the second most popular goal selected, and getting out of debt is the third. A 2012 survey found that 45 percent of families with annual incomes under $50,000 rely on credit cards to pay for basic needs such as rent, utilities, insurance and food.
For decades, home ownership has been the main path to wealth for most Americans. Today, home equity, the market value of a home minus the balance on any home loans, represents more than four-fifths of the typical family’s wealth.
Retirement savings is a top priority for many savers. Maybe you think retirement is a long way off.
Maybe it is. However, saving for retirement early will ensure that you have enough money to maintain a comfortable standard of living when you stop or reduce the amount of hours you work.
Not sure how to save for your goals? Set a goal, make a plan, and save automatically.
Research shows that writing down your goals greatly increases your chances of meeting them. A spending plan is a great way to do that.
Saving automatically is how millions of Americans save at financial institutions, and how millions of employees save through 401(k) and other retirement programs at work. Set up regular savings and retirement deposits with automatic deductions.
Many employers let you split your check between multiple accounts, so split your direct deposit between checking and savings. Many retirement plans offer matching contributions.
Why not take advantage of this free money when it is available, as well as making sure your money is set aside before you have the opportunity to spend it.
Not sure you have money to save? You may have more than you think.
Are you eagerly anticipating a tax refund? Do you already have the money spent in your head?
Many view tax refunds as unplanned bonuses, a gift from the government, to use for splurges or treats. A tax refund provides the opportunity to improve your financial situation, so why not save some or all of it?
Save your loose change. Just 50 cents can amount to a lot over time.
Small changes in habits can also really add up. Cut soda consumption, bring lunch to work or eat out fewer times a month.
Purchase fewer lottery tickets. Borrow, rather than buy, books or DVDs.
For some just by maintaining checking account minimums, bouncing one less check a month or paying credit card bills on time to avoid late fees will provide money to set aside. Fees add up and can be avoided.
Automate your bills to take advantage of discounts, or to avoid late fees. Use the cash back from credit cards for savings instead of spending it.
Need more ideas? Visit www.hancocksaves.org or www.americasaves.org.
However you decide to improve your financial situation now is the time to get started!
Carles, with the Ohio State University Extension, is program coordinator for Hancock Saves.
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