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Have you reached a savings plateau?
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"We spend a lot of money to please their parents," she says.

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Her boys' favorite gift of the year was a pack of six multicolored balls.

College and retirement compete
It sounds small, but a "retirement readiness survey" conducted by Fidelity Investments showed how much is at stake.

One in three workers said that they have pushed back their expected retirement timetable due to financial shortfalls.

Dual-income households with annual incomes of more than $50,000 were most likely to say that the need to save for college competes with their ability to save for retirement -- and that it was the main reason for their longer-than-expected time on the job.

It's better to chip away at the two largest savings challenges of life than to ignore them.

The financial firm suggests converting a monthly payment that ceases for one purpose into a savings mechanism for another. For example, a family already accustomed to making regular payments for day care can divert these payments into a 529 college savings plan once their child begins attending elementary school. When the child graduates from college, the monies earmarked for college expenses can be shifted to retirement savings.

Ask for 529 plan contributions from family members for holiday and birthday gifts when your children are small so that earnings can compound over the years. Even small amounts would help.

Finally, don't skip the free money. Fidelity offers a credit card that puts 2 percent of certain purchases into a 529 plan. Other reward-based programs abound that can fatten up a college account even, if even only pennies at a time.

Something's got to give
Preserving fruit and clipping coupons is, in the end, of limited utility.

"Something has to give. You can only stretch money so far," Glink says.

At some point, tough choices have to be made, and some of that will involve a revised understanding of financial priorities.

Glink believes that fully funding retirement comes ahead of everything. Put it at the top of the list if money for savings is not going to get to everything.

"Somebody will lend you money to send your kids to school, but nobody is going to lend you a dime for retirement," she says.

Dennis Filangeri, certified financial planner, says that just like Maslow's pyramid leading to self-actualization in psychology: There is a financial hierarchy of needs, and following it will help distribute limited resources.

To start, though, he advises clients to take a look at their cash flow -- the real one, not that imaginary budget -- and decide if they are trying to fit a big lifestyle into small finances.

"Living within your means is taking care of everything and still having change left over from your paycheck," he says.

Trouble is, when he says "everything," the financial planner is counting the rainy-day savings and college and retirement fund contributions along with the mortgage.

The roof over your head is the most common source of an oversized lifestyle, according to Filangeri. Moving into the right neighborhood, choosing to own instead of rent, needing a spare room -- these are all emotional decisions that people who believe they are trying hard to save money can rationalize away. To make a real change, every part of life has to be up for negotiation.

 
 
Next: Financial planning is not a magic pill.
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