At the grocery store, the cashier dutifully informs you of all the money you've saved with the store specials.
"You saved $6.45 today," she proclaims, pointing to the highlighted figure on the receipt.
You may not give this much thought, considering the whole thing smacks of showmanship and specials that are meant to get you into the store. But a few savings-minded readers have told me that, as soon as they get home, they put in a cookie jar an amount similar to what they saved.
When the jar is full, they deposit the money in their savings account. After months and sometimes years of doing this, they have balances in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Consider this a painless way to save and build an emergency reserve, and the type of idea the Consumer Federation of America and other organizations are looking for as part of their "America Saves" campaign. The goal: "To focus greater attention on the needs and opportunities for personal savings," said Stephen Brobeck, CFA executive director.
First, the needs. A recent survey released by the federation found just 40 percent of adult Americans have a separate emergency savings fund. Of those who do, nearly half have $2,000 or less, or did not say how much they have.
Among younger Americans, lower-income families, and minorities, the numbers are worse. Just 19 percent of those ages 18-24 and 23 percent of those with household incomes under $25,000 have a separate emergency fund.
And less than a third of African-Americans and Hispanic Americans have one, according to the survey of more than 1,000 adult Americans commissioned by the federation and conducted by Opinion Research Corp.
"The ability of Americans to cover unexpected expenses such as a car repair or emergency dental visit depends greatly on their having an emergency savings fund," Brobeck said. Without one, they risk falling prey to high-interest credit cards or payday loans to bail them out, he said.
Now, the opportunities.
Participating financial institutions in America Saves (see www.americasaves.org) have set a goal of opening nearly 10,000 savings accounts for low- and moderate-income Americans. In Cleveland alone, 11 banks have pledged to open 4,500 new accounts.
(Through the America Saves initiative, launched in 2001, more than 68,000 savers have committed to implement a detailed plan toward a specific savings goal. The most popular is building a reserve fund.)
In addition, readers are being invited to submit ideas to build or maintain an emergency fund. If your idea is chosen, Brobeck said, it will be published in the American Saver quarterly newsletter (you can download a copy at the America Saves Web site) and you'll win a $50 EE U.S. savings bond, worth $25 at issue.
How about it? Send your ideas to Nancy Register at the Consumer Federation (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; fax number 202-265-7989; address 1620 I St. N.W., Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20006, attention Nancy Register).
The most effective idea, most everyone agrees, is to put savings on autopilot.
"For most Americans, an appropriate [emergency savings] fund would be a savings account at a bank, thrift, or credit union that is funded by automatic monthly transfers from checking or by a portion of directly deposited paychecks," according to a statement by the federation, the Federal Reserve, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and other organizations participating in America Saves.
Indeed, most Americans with an emergency fund save through automatic transfers, the CFA survey found.
Humberto Cruz writes for Tribune Media Services.