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Savings Guide 2006

Savings story

  We may be saving less than ever, but money DOES buy happiness.
9 best reasons to save money
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"I see it as a train wreck," says Congemi, who points out that as baby boomers realize they haven't saved enough for retirement, the next generation will have to be called upon to help. And then that generation, of course, won't be able to put away enough for themselves.

D'Arruda points to the worries some people have that boomers will sell off their equities to live through retirement and the stock market will take a tumble as this large group exits the market.

3. Expect the unexpected.
Because emergencies -- think job loss, illness, car breakdowns and home repairs -- happen to all of us (sometimes all at once), experts recommend building reserves for a rainy day before funding those sunny retirement days.

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dave Ramsey, author of "The Total Money Makeover," calls this reserve fund "Murphy Repellant." He explains: "You know Murphy's law -- anything that can go wrong will. If you don't have an emergency fund Murphy will move into your spare bedroom and eventually invite his three cousins -- Broke, Desperate and Stupid -- to join him."

Harris agrees. "The fact is, no one knows when something's going to occur where they need to put their hands on $5,000 to $10,000."

But isn't that what home equity loans and credit cards are for? Borrow off the house, and "odds are, you'll never put that money back," Harris says. Not to mention, credit card interest rates rack up fast.

Having an emergency fund brings peace of mind that you'll be able to keep up with the mortgage and other regular bills for a few months, should a financial setback occur.

For those who are working on getting out of debt, a realistic emergency savings goal to begin with is $1,000, says Ramsey. Then work up to saving three to six months' of expenses to take care of bigger emergencies. 

4. The price of getting smart.
Since a kid's college years crop up faster than you can say "expected family contribution" -- and even public institution costs are expected to reach six figures by 2020 --  the goal of being able to pay for a child's education is what keeps some parents and grandparents saving. Participation in 529 plans will likely be skyrocketing, now that the tax benefits of these college savings vehicles have been made permanent.

Yet some financial experts recommend thinking twice before giving savings the old college try. "My approach is to put as much money away into retirement as you possibly can, and don't put money into college funds," says Harris, who has three daughters in their 20s, each of whom started off in community colleges and eventually got their four-year degrees without the need for loans.

"Here's the method to my madness," says Harris. "Retirement money works for you at a younger age. Most people don't have funds available to adequately put money aside for both retirement and college. If you put maximum into retirement and your child is ready for school, you can discontinue retirement savings and pay for college out of your cash flow. Don't forget, the amount of aid students can get is limited by the assets they already have. A student who has a big nest egg won't qualify for financial assistance. My counsel has been: First set up an emergency fund, then fully max out your retirement and only then put money into college funds."

-- Posted: Oct. 1, 2006
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