There are a lot of folks tired of the snow and arctic temperatures many areas of the country are experiencing these days. I know I am tired of the bone-chilling cold.
And I bet there are also a lot of folks just as tired of financially focused people like myself telling them they aren’t saving enough. So by informing those folks that this week — Feb. 23 to 28 — is America Saves Week, I expect some rolled eyes or sighs. Few people like to be told the obvious, especially when they don’t think they can do anything about it.
But with saving — come on, you knew a “but” was coming — just like with cold weather, you can hate it, yet you still have to protect yourself.
Think of whatever money you can squirrel away as the mismatched gloves you had to grab during a cold spell just to make sure you had something on your hands. Your emergency fund is the hat that your mother nagged you to put on when it was cold. Your savings is the scarf you should be wrapping around your face to brace against the winds that make you feel as if you’re being slapped.
It turns out that more of you are protecting yourself financially. Compared with last year, the annual America Saves Week survey bears this out, said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
Survey participants who said they are spending less and saving the difference increased to 71 percent from 68 percent in the past year. People who said they are saving at least 5 percent of their income increased to 52 percent from 47 percent.
Some of you may be wondering if you should be saving 5 percent of your income. Is that the standard? People are always asking me what percentage of their income they should save. My answer always is, it depends.
Rather than focus on an arbitrary percentage, think about this conclusion from the survey: People who have a savings plan attached to a specific goal save more successfully.
It makes sense. If you have identified specific things you need to save for — retirement, a college fund, a down payment on a home or a car — you are more likely to watch what you spend. And you are, I hope, less likely to take on debt.
Setting specific goals definitely has worked for me. Every time my kids ask for something, I think about how much I need to save to send them to college debt-free so they can get a good education, so they can get a job, so they can get out of my house.
This year, to help people follow the strategy of setting a savings goal, organizers of America Saves Week have come up with a contest. On the social media platform of your choice — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine or LinkedIn, for example — you submit a photo of yourself in which you use the hashtag #imsavingfor. The prize is $500. In addition to the photo, you have to fill out a short form at americasavesweek.org that asks, among other things, for your name, e-mail address and where you plan on sharing the photo. Find the form under the “For individuals” tab. You have until March 6 to enter.
America Saves Week, in conjunction with Military Saves Week, is an annual effort organized by America Saves, which is managed by the Consumer Federation of America and the American Savings Education Council. The campaigns pull in employers, nonprofit groups, government agencies, the Defense Department and financial institutions to promote the importance of saving. It’s a great endeavor, especially as we see so much of the traditional safety nets being pulled out from under so many people.
I will say this: Don’t let all the scolding about your emergency fund deficiency or debt load discourage you from saving what you can.
No matter how repetitious it sounds to encourage people to save, it’s a message we can’t get tired of hearing or passing along. About one-quarter of consumers said they have more credit card debt than emergency savings, according to Bankrate.com’s monthly Financial Security Index.
Maybe you aren’t feeling my analogy of the cold weather to having a stash of cash. Even so, my point is that savings are what you grab when things get uncomfortable financially. Whether you are making the minimum wage or a middle-income salary, you’ve got to have something — anything — set aside for a rainy or cold day.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.