Monday, June 15, 2009

Saving With Limited Funds

Not only is April tax-filing season, but it’s also Financial Literacy Month. Most Americans are clueless about issues such as credit management, taxes, banking, and saving and investing for the future, reports In addition to not knowing enough about saving and investing, too many people aren’t doing enough to prepare for their financial future.
According to the 10th annual Ariel-Schwab Black Investor Survey, African Americans continue to save far less money than white people and are no more likely to be investors today than they were a decade ago. The 2007 survey of African Americans and white people earning at least $50,000 annually also showed that the median amount of money saved by black people is $48,000 compared with $100,000 for white people. On a monthly basis, median savings is $182 for black people versus $261 for white people.
Also, 40% of consumers live beyond their means, and half are living paycheck to paycheck. If this sounds like you, putting aside extra cash for a rainy day may seem impossible, especially when funds are tight and you’re on a fixed income.
But given the current economic slowdown, it’s an ideal time to take the cost-cutting measures necessary to achieve financial security. "The key to saving money with limited funds is training your mind to know how much money you are working with and making a conscious decision to stay within that framework of available cash," says Gil Michel, president and founder of, a personal finance Website geared to the African American online community. "Unless you change your mindset, the spending habits that you form based on say, a $25,000 salary will be the same even if you were to make $100,000." Michel adds.
An effective savings plan takes discipline to reach specific financial goals. Regardless of your income, here are five steps to help eliminate debt and to start saving:
  1. Create a budget. Neglecting to keep track of your day-to-day finances is a challenge that can lead to unintentional overspending. A budget will show exactly how much money is coming in, how much money is going out, and where it’s going. Set limits on the amount of money you spend each month and make small adjustments in areas where money can be freed–such as cafĂ© lattes and junk food. Also, Black Enterprise’s Wealth Building Guide offers some ideas on how you can grow your income to save more. (See the "Wealth Building"portion of for more information.) You want to put aside at least 10% of your after-tax income to use towards an emergency fund, investments and education.
  2. Invest in your company’s 401(k) plan. If you aren’t investing in your company’s employer-sponsored retirement plan, then don’t procrastinate any longer. A 401(k) is an effortless savings tool (it automatically comes out of your paycheck) that can provide significant income for retirement. If your employer even matches a portion of your contributions, it is allowing more money to work for you faster. If you’re not offered this plan at work, contribute to an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or some other tax-free or tax-deferred vehicle.
  3. Refinance your home. If you had an adjustable rate mortgage, the Federal Reserve’s recent cut in a key interest rate makes it an opportune time to refinance at a fixed rate. It may also be a way to lower your monthly mortgage payment and have access to more cash to invest or pay down debt. Consider all costs associated with going down a percentage point or two in your interest rate to ensure that refinancing balances out with the amount you save on interest. For those who rent and have an extra room, consider bringing in a trusted friend to share the expenses. This is an economical alternative for those who live in big cities where they are paying premiums for rent.
  4. Eliminate credit card debt. The convenience of buying with plastic instead of cash has created an epidemic of excessive credit card debt. A smart solution begins with making cash-only purchases. Call your credit card company and requesting a lower interest rate. If you own more than one credit card, first make additional payments on the card that carries the highest rate and then work your way down to the card that has the lowest rate until all debt is satisfied. Once you pay off that debt, use that monthly amount you would have paid for those bills toward your savings.
  5. Be diligent when paying off balances. Do your homework if you decide to close your accounts because it can have an adverse affect on your credit history and credit score. Credit is beneficial if you spend wisely and pay off the entire balance at the end of the month. Living without debt will help you to save more.

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