Some consumers might be overwhelmed when they hear the standard advice that you need six months' worth of living expenses — or more — in a savings account, McKinney says. But the typical emergency is $200 to $300, and that goal is achievable, she says.
You also can use the tax system to boost savings.
Many people manage to save only by having their employer over-withhold taxes from their paycheck, guaranteeing a refund each year. But instead of spending that refund, have all or some of your refund put directly into savings.
With your federal return, you can request that a refund be directly deposited in up to three separate accounts, or used to buy U.S. savings bonds. Marylanders also can have their state tax refund deposited in up to three bank accounts.
And many still don't take advantage of the federal saver's credit for low- to moderate-income taxpayers who save for retirement in an individual retirement account, 401(k) or similar plan.
The credit reduces the bottom-line tax bill by up to $1,000 for singles and double that for joint filers. The IRS notes that given other deductions and credits, the actual saver's credit is typically smaller. According to the most recent figures, the average saver's credit amounted to $202 for couples and $121 for singles.
Still, that's money just for saving for your own retirement. And many Marylanders, as the survey suggests, need every penny they can get.