Residents urged to become ‘savers’

Published 12:02 am Friday, February 24, 2012

Everyone has been told to save for a rainy day, but many don’t follow the advice.

This week, residents statewide are asked to become an “Alabama saver” as the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and its Alabama Saves Coalition members are preparing for “Alabama Saves Week, Feb. 19 through 26.

The event coincides with the national observance of Ame-rican Saves Week. Extension Consumer Science and Personal Financial Management agents conduct events and activities to encourage financial literacy throughout the year.

Bridget Brannon, the Covington County extension agent, said during the week, there is an expanded effort to increase awareness of the need to save money, reduce debt and build wealth with a primary focus on taking financial action – making commitments to save, invest and build wealth. She said activities are conducted through partnerships with nonprofit organizations, companies, government agencies, educational institutions, religious institutions, community groups and others.

“As families continue to cope with unemployment, tighter credit and strained budgets, financial security is more important than ever,” Brannon said. “Most Alabamians do not have adequate savings to meet major emergencies, much less prepare for retirement.”

She said research shows the typical American household has less than $100,000 in net wealth, including home equity and 401k accumulations, and only about $10,000 in net financial assets. Lower income families have fewer resources, she said.

“This year’s theme is ‘Set a Goal, Make a Plan, Save Automatically,’” Brannon said. “Saving automatically is the best strategy for savers. There are many different ways to save but one of the most effective ways is to save automatically by agreeing in advance to transfer funds regularly from a paycheck or checking to savings or investments.

“Many low-to-moderate income households believe they can’t afford to save,” she said. “While those with modest incomes cannot save as much as the affluent, almost everyone has the ability to build wealth over time. The creation of wealth, not debt over the long term starts with learning to save.”

One in eight Alabama residents in the state does not have a bank account, making Alabama sixth in the nation with the highest number of unbanked citizens.

Brannon said “Alabama Saves” suggests three ways that individuals can begin or improve their savings right away:

• Assess your spending and make sure you are spending less than you earn. Start by looking at how you spend your money. Inventory your spending for one or more months to see where your money is going. You may be surprised to see how buying a daily cup of coffee adds up, or the budget effects of regularly eating out. Once you have a handle on how you are spending, it’s easy to identify areas to cut back.

• Open a saving account or other savings vehicle, and save automatically. Almost all financial institutions allow account holders to set up automatic weekly or monthly funds transfers from checking to savings accounts. This method of saving allows savings to grow.

• Establish an emergency savings fund to cover unexpected expenses. Keeping $500 to $1,000 in an emergency fund helps you pay for unforeseen costs such as car or house repairs or a doctor’s bill for an illness. It allows you to avoid high-cost, short-term loans, which can create a cycle of debt.