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Building a Savings Stockpile on Shoestring Budget

Money experts say it is possible to save, even on a limited income.

Financial experts say that it is possible for everyone to build a savings, even those on a limited income. “Start small, which at the end of the day might be taking all of the change out of your pocket,” said Steve Pillof, Ph.D.

Financial experts say that it is possible for everyone to build a savings, even those on a limited income. “Start small, which at the end of the day might be taking all of the change out of your pocket,” said Steve Pillof, Ph.D. Photo by Marilyn Campbell.

Even though Mary Beth Lanvin is employed full-time with a company that offers generous retirement benefits, she can’t afford to contribute to a 401(k). “I barely make enough money to pay my bills,” she said. “If I saved even 1 percent of my salary, I would have creditors calling me.”

Financial experts say that it is possible for everyone to build a savings, even those on a limited income. “Start small, which at the end of the day might be taking all of the change out of your pocket and putting it into a jar,” said Steve Pillof, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance at George Mason University. “You can bill yourself, say $5 every week so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. The idea of a few dollars every week seems more manageable.”

Pillof said the first savings goal should be an emergency fund. “If something happens to your car or you have an unexpected situation at the house, you’ve got some money there so you can take care of it with out it creating a stressful debt spiral.”

“Savings is a habit that once you get into you’ll start seeing benefits, even if the are modest.

Steve Pillof, Ph.D., George Mason University

Charles W. Miller, associate professor of finance at Marymount University adds: “It is extremely important to contribute to some sort of savings plans at least every two weeks.”

A target savings goal, said Pillof, is three to six months of one’s salary. “Ideally you put yourself in a position where if you lose your job you can continue for three to six months,” he said. “If you can get there, you know you can sleep at night knowing that if something happens you’re protected. For a lot of people that may not be realistic and their savings is going to come more slowly.” When opening a savings account, Pillof advises consumers to be aware of minimum balance requirements and costly banking fees.

Pillof said that the next priority after an emergency savings plan is saving for retirement. “You really want to maximize employer sponsored opportunities. You really want to work hard to take advantage of those because if you don’t you’re just leaving money on the table,” he said. “If you don’t have employer opportunities, look at IRAs because there are tax advantages. You’re leveraging and maximizing your ability to save because of the tax benefits.”

Miller said getting rid of credit card debt should be another top priority. “With annual interest rates as high as 36 percent on some credit cards, you have to sit down and develop some sort of plan to pay it off quickly if you have credit card debt,” he said. “The interest you’re paying is money that you could be saving.”

Pillof said that one of the biggest hurdles to saving money is changing one’s mindset. “Saving money is a lot like eating less to lose weight. In both cases consistently doing what needs to be done is extraordinarily difficult for most people,” he said. “Savings is a habit that once you get into you’ll start seeing benefits, even if they are modest. And you’ll have increased motivation to save.”