Come What May, Sock Some Away

I make a reasonable income, but find it difficult to save. Are their practical steps you would recommend to make it easier for a family to put money away?

You’re not the only one who is having a hard time saving. It appears that 2005 was the first year since 1933 (during the Great Depression) that the nation’s savings rate was negative. This isn’t just a slowdown in the rate people are saving money, but an actual tapping of savings to meet current financial obligations.

This statistic reminds us of the fragile state of family finances in America. We are a country that has accepted debt as a way of life and are finding out that “The borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).

Do you find yourself in this same (sinking) boat? Here are some ways for you to become a saver rather than find yourself in the bondage of debt.

" Develop a financial plan (including a budget), track your expenses and have a “family meeting” at least once a quarter to discuss how you are doing.

" Only use credit cards on planned purchases and pay your entire bill off each month.

" If you have credit-card balances with high interest rates, consider transferring the balances to lower-rate cards or reorganizing the debt. Remember, though, that a debt reorganization only takes away the symptoms of your previous financial problems. A true long-term fix rests on your willingness to live within your means in the future.

" Take advantage of employer-offered savings plans by participating in 401K and medical-spending reimbursement accounts.

" Be a comparative shopper. Obtain at least three “bids” on major purchases, including cars, appliances, home improvement projects, insurance policies and mortgages. This discipline alone can save thousands.

" Review the fees your bank charges. You can save more than $100 each year by locating the bank that wants your business. You’ll have to do the math, but a minimum balance arrangement that you stick to may be a good deal compared to charges that would otherwise be made.

" Pay cash for major purchases. Just from a psychological perspective, you’ll spend less than you would with credit, because you’ll have a greater appreciation for how difficult it was to save the money in the first place. In addition, you’ll save thousands on the interest.

" Watch you entertainment dollars. It’s easy to overspend on meals out, vacations and other activities. Look for enjoyment in simple pleasures like park days, walks and bike rides. Budget your meals out and vacations and stick to the budget.

" There are price wars going on right now in the area of life insurance. For those where a “term” policy is appropriate (most of us), contact a few brokers (or get on the web) and obtain current quotes. The necessary blood test will be relatively painless compared to the dollars you can save.

Don’t let the negative statistics discourage you from taking responsible steps to true financial freedom. Learning how to save and avoiding debt are two of those steps. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is director of finance at

Catholic Answers in El Cajon, California.