I feel good that, by saving regularly and staying clear of credit card debt, my wife, Georgina, and I could quit full-time work in our 50s and enjoy a fun-filled semi-retirement.
And even though our combined incomes never put us beyond the middle income-tax bracket (if that high), we built a seven-figure nest egg that keeps growing thanks to the magic of compounding.
My point, after reading a recent survey on Americans' savings habits, is that most don't understand how simple - and yes, fun - saving can be.
Admittedly, it can be tough to save if you face large regular or unexpected expenses or have low or unreliable income, the factors most often mentioned as making it difficult for people to save.
But social and psychological factors also play a big role, based on the survey by Opinion Research Corp. for the Consumer Federation of America and Wachovia Corp.
Of more than 2,000 adult Americans surveyed in November, 17 percent said they cannot save at all, and an additional 35 percent said they are not saving enough.
Among this combined group, 37 percent said "impulse spending" was a barrier to saving. "Spending to feel good" was cited by 29 percent; "social pressure from friends or family" by 20 percent; "trips to the mall" by 15 percent; and "playing the lottery or gambling" by 8 percent. Not surprisingly, 42 percent said credit cards make it difficult to save, and 60 percent reported having large consumer debt.
Georgina and I never had those problems. Our families came to the United States from communist Cuba in the 1960s, leaving all material possessions behind.
No impulse spending
No impulse spending for us when every penny went for basic necessities.
In the Consumer Federation/Wachovia survey, among Americans who don't save at all or not enough, impulse buying is a problem for 46 percent of those making at least $75,000 a year compared with 32 percent of those making below $35,000.
Leave the credit cards at home when going to the mall, and volunteer your time to help others so you don't need to spend to feel good. Also, set up automatic transfers from your checking account into a savings or investment account.
Georgina and I started by automatically depositing $100 a month into a mutual fund, increasing the amount regularly as our finances improved and watching our balance grow.
In the survey, "knowledge of interest compounding" beat all other choices for incentives to saving, including access to workplace retirement programs, savings accounts with a 5 percent interest rate, automatic transfers from checking to savings and encouragement from family and friends.
Unfortunately, the survey stated incorrectly that savings of $200 a month compounding at 5 percent a year for 30 years would grow to more than $300,000.
Given those numbers, 80 percent of the people who don't save at all or not enough said that would be important information in persuading them to save.
In reality, it would take 40 years, not 30, to accumulate the $300,000. But it hardly matters. After I noticed the mistake, this and related questions, with the correct numbers, were asked of a similar group. This time, the percentage who said the information was important in getting them to save was higher, at 83 percent.
"That doesn't surprise me," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the consumer federation. "Most people underestimate the power of compound interest."
The point: "We want to get that message out to more Americans. Small amounts of savings can add up significantly over time," said Kathryn Black, senior vice president for Wachovia.
Looking over our portfolio, I know that's true.
Humberto Cruz writes for Tribune Media Services.