Being a smart consumer starts with knowing when not to spend

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 29, 2016, at 1:44 p.m.

Last week, many financial and government agencies marked America Saves Week. Military Saves Week, focused on families of armed services personnel, took place at the same time.

The occasions reminded us of a hard reality of our economic lives: It’s never too soon, or too late, to start saving. The sooner the better, of course; but saving is a habit that must be learned, whenever the lesson comes.

For Karen Amador Lesetmoe, a single mom in the U.S. Navy, the lesson began eight years ago. Tired of living paycheck to paycheck, she made the checklist of income and expenses that most smart savers make. She cut expenses to the bone, paid off credit card debt first and socked away every spare cent in savings. She paid off loans as fast as she could.

Now, she’s well on the way to a secure financial future. She’s such a believer in saving as a way of life that she told her fiancé she would not marry him until he paid off his $18,000 in credit card debt.

“We got married last month!” she wrote triumphantly on the Military Saves website (www.militarysaves.org).

America Saves Week is an educational effort to raise awareness about saving; the program is managed by the Consumer Federation of America. Organizers hope that consumers will practice good budgeting and saving habits year-round.

Read more about the campaign at www.americasaves.org and www.AmericaSavesWeek.org.

The American Savings Education Council, or ASEC, is a program of the Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund. It’s a nonprofit coalition of public- and private-sector groups that strive to make saving and retirement planning priorities for everyone. Read more about the council’s efforts at www.choosetosave.org/asec.

Another observance comes along next week, with a broader focus. National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12) reminds all of us that it takes a lot more than a fat wallet to be a good consumer. We need to take primary responsibility for our own economic well-being. And if we’re really responsible citizens, we’ll pass helpful information on to others.

There are plenty of helpful tips and links at the Consumer Protection Week website, www.ncpw.gov. One blog entry cautions consumers that promises to lower student loan or mortgage payments may instead be schemes to take your money and give you nothing in return.

Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions website includes a number of links on a range of consumer topics, from bankruptcy to unclaimed property. Visit www.maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/index.shtml and find “consumer library” under the Consumer Tools listing.

The U.S. Office of Comptroller of the Currency website includes updates, events and resources on financial literacy. Use the free resources you’ll find at the site (www.occ.gov/topics/community-affairs/resource-directories/financial-literacy/financial-literacy-update.html).

You may know all you need to know about saving and being a smart consumer. If so, pay it forward: Tell a friend or family member about the many, free resources that can help them be equally savvy.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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