We’re in the heart of America Saves Week, the time each year when the folks at America Saves conduct a survey of our progress when it comes to socking money away for rainy days and retirement. The group also encourages companies and individuals to assess their own efforts.
So, how are you feeling about your savings progress? If you’re like 60 percent of the U.S. households surveyed, your answer is “meh.”
This year’s survey also shows that just 28 percent of Americans (and only 23 percent of women) are saving at least 10 percent of their income. That’s frightening. Saving at least 10 percent is crucial if you want a shot at maintaining your standard of living in retirement. In fact, recent research suggests that, simply because we’re living longer, most of us should bump it up to 15 percent.
Here’s what you can do to save more:
See it to be it: Visualize what you want, when you want it and how you’ll get there — and then write it down. New research from TD Bank shows people who imagine their financial goals are much more confident about achieving them than those who don't. Double up on this confidence by keeping images, photos or vision boards of your goals in plain sight — people who do report feeling twice as confident (59 percent vs. 31 percent) as people who don’t.
Draft a plan: Then, with those visuals in mind, draft a plan: the America Saves research shows 84 percent of those with a savings plan reported spending less than their income and saving the difference. Only 46 percent of people without a plan reported the same. If you need extra motivation, calculate your assets, says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of CFA and a founder of America Saves.
"People save more effectively when they know what their net assets are," he says. Add up your assets (both real and financial) and subtract all of your debts to get the number. "This figure is often an effective motivator to paying more attention to saving and wealth building."
Set it and forget it: Automate your savings so that you have money taken out of your paycheck and put into a retirement account like a 401(k). No retirement plan at work? Do the same thing by arranging for automatic transfers out of your checking (right after each paycheck lands) and into an IRA or SEP-IRA. (And note: You can do the same for any goal. Spent $1,200 on the 2015 holidays? Save $25 a week and you can pre-fund next year’s.)
Don’t confuse unexpected money with “extra” money: Research shows you run the risk of spending twice as much. So, for example, if you receive $100 as a gift and view it as “play money,” then you’re more likely to go out and spend $200 “playing.”
Play mindgames: Sometimes making little deals with yourself — or your spouse — can help you sock additional money away. One of our Today cameramen and his wife save every $5 bill; they’ve funded holidays and trips that way. Or, rather than thinking of expenditures in dollars, try to view them in a currency that is more meaningful to you — for instance, cups of coffee. Once you realize those blue jeans will cost you 30 cups of coffee, perhaps you’ll decide you don’t need them after all.
-- Kelly Hultgren contributed to this story.