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Saving is crucial now more than ever

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

It's not only a good song by Fleetwood Mac, but sage advice for those of us hoping to enjoy retirement some day.

Unfortunately, it's advice many seem not to be heeding.

On Monday, CNBC.com detailed the latest Bankrate.com Financial Security Index survey, which found that nearly half of Americans have inadequate savings or none at all.

Among those surveyed, 24 percent said they have more credit card debt than money in the bank, and another 16 percent said they had no savings.

"The fact of the matter is that America is broke - whether it's mortgages, student loans or credit cards, we are broke," ConsolidatedCredit.org founder Howard Dvorkin told CNBC.

"The old rule of thumb is that people should have six months of savings," he said. "If you talk to people, most don't have two pennies."

In its annual "America Saves" survey, the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America found only 54 percent of Americans say they have a savings plan with specific goals.

And those who are saving aren't saving much.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the average American socked away 3.9 percent of his or her annual household income in 2012.

That's slightly better than the abysmal 1.6 percent annual savings rate logged in 2005 but a far cry from what Americans used to save.

When I was born - not so long ago in 1981 - Americans were saving a healthy 10.6 percent of their annual incomes.

As Archie Bunker might say, "Those were the days."

But between 1982 and 2001, the U.S. savings rate edged consistently downward as consumption-driven lifestyles urged us to spend more.

Sadly, this change in behavior is happening at the worst possible time.

Our national leaders have been doing a better job lately at creating financial crises than solving them. Ultimate fiscal calamity seems inevitable.

It's why many in my generation - the "under-40" crowd - believe we're more likely to see space aliens than a Social Security check.

So why aren't we saving? Another national survey says that people aged 25-32, when asked how much they had tucked away for retirement, most commonly answered $5,000 or less.

Yes, I know budgets are tight. Increasing utility bills, student loans, credit card debt - these all seem too great a burden to bear.

But this cycle cannot continue.

Americans need to make a concerted effort to get back to those healthier savings rates of the 20th century if we want to find an enjoyable retirement in the 21st.

Sooner rather than later, we will all need to take a hard look at our spending habits and make a change for the better.

Even a small step in the right direction is a step worth taking.

If Congress continues to be content to squander away the Treasury, it's more important than ever for people to take it upon themselves to secure their own futures.  

 


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