TIME Innovation

How to Get Americans to Save Money

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Americans are lousy at saving money and they know it. Here’s how to fix it.

By Gillian B. White in the Atlantic

2. What if computers could predict psychosis by analyzing someone’s speech?

By Columbia University Medical Center

3. Get rid of cash bail.

By Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker

4. The Stradivarius of the future will be 3D-printed.

By Margaret Rhodes in Wired

5. Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina can teach every state about climate resilience.

By Kate Sheppard in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Budgeting

5 Dumb Ways You’re Wasting Money Without Realizing It

Andre Thijssen—Getty Images

Unless you're in a witness protection program, it's worth it to sign up for loyalty programs from merchants you frequent.

Even if you’re rich, wasting money is criminally stupid. Sit down for a minute and think of all the things you could do with the money you waste that would otherwise make life better for someone else. If that doesn’t grab you, then think of what you could do with the money that would make life better for your own future self. Oh, yes, lovely and young as you are today, you are going to have a future self who might very well wish he or she had more money in the bank.

If even that isn’t enough to make you reconsider your ways, think of how hard you worked to earn that money (trust fund babies may leave the room now), and then picture yourself doing that work for free because what you’re essentially doing is throwing hours’ or weeks’ worth of salary right into the trash. Really. Picture yourself putting cash money into a trash bag, and watching it being driven off down the street in a garbage truck. Insane, right?

However, you may not realize how much money you re actually wasting. Here’s five signs you need to curb your spending before you send more cash to the dump:

1. You Buy New Stuff Just Because It’s New

You’re the guy in line at 2 a.m. on the day the new iPhone is being released. But guess what? There’s always going to be a new iPhone coming out. And a fancy new fill-in-the-blank. Commerce is what makes the world go ’round. If companies stopped creating new versions of things to sell, they’d go out of business. However, it doesn’t mean you have to buy into the super-hype and rush to get everything the minute it hits the shelf.

It’s not just electronics. The new car smell is still hanging in the air and you’re at the dealership again looking at next year’s models? Cars depreciate 11% the minute you drive them off the lot, and lose 19% of their value in the first year. You don’t get your money’s worth out of a car until you’ve driven for a while.

2. You Sale Shop for Things You Don’t Need

It’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Super Saturday, or Free Shipping Day, and you’re right out there among the rest of them. Fighting your way through the crowds — real or virtual — to get your hands on stuff you never knew you wanted. You hate to miss one of your local department or computer store’s special sales (nearly every weekend), and you never pass up two-for-one coupons for things you don’t even need one of. “But look how much I’m saving!” you say. But look how much you’re saving if you keep your wallet in your pocket.

What’s that you say? You only shop at discount stores, dollar stores, and places with Barn, Depot or Warehouse in their names? Look how much I’m saving! Yep, you’re saving what it would have cost if you’d bought the same things at high-end establishments. But if you don’t need them, then you’re not saving a cent no matter what you paid for them. Plus you’ve got to figure out where to put everything when you get it home. You want to wind up living like someone on Hoarders?

3. You Pay Fees to Use a Credit Card or Checking Account

You’re handing over money to a credit card company so that you can pay interest on the money you owe them? What a deal! There are a few exceptions when the program rewards will more than pay the fee, but generally, paying an annual credit card fee is dumb. There are plenty of credit cards with no annual fee. Get one.

The same applies to having accounts at a bank that charges a monthly checking account fee or a fee to visit a teller instead of an ATM. Do some research and find a bank that will accommodate you with no fees for a minimum deposit you can live with.

4. You Don’t Use Loyalty Cards at the Stores You Shop at Regularly

Rail as you might at the insidiousness of grocery and other stores that extract personal information from you and track your purchases in exchange for giving you discounts, if you regularly shop at a store that offers special pricing to customers in its loyalty program and you don’t take advantage of it, you’re over-spending at that store by 20% or more every time you shop there. Unless you’re in a witness protection program, it’s absolutely worth the savings to give your local supermarket your address and phone number and let them keep tabs on the brand of butter you buy.

5. You Eat Out More Often Than You Eat at Home

If your breakfast comes in a Styrofoam container, your lunch is delivered in a plastic box, and you’re choosing dinner from a menu, you’re spending way more than you have to. You can’t help it if you’re on the road, but otherwise, you can eat as well or better at home for a lot less money, even if you barely cook at all. Tax and tip alone add about 25% to the price you’d pay if you bought the food yourself and just nuked it. If you actually know how to cook, there’s sort of no excuse.

Read next: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

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MONEY financial advice

The 2 Biggest Money Mistakes

70% of Americans are prone to one or the other. Here's how to correct them.

Imagine coming to America as a young adult with a few hundred dollars in your pocket and, by the time you’re 34, selling your company to a Fortune 500 company for over $100 million.

How do you think you would feel? Ecstatic, jubilant, ready to reward yourself?

The answer for me was none of the above. My wife and I discussed celebrating by taking a multi-month vacation in Greece with our young daughters. Sadly, I was too afraid about the future to spoil myself and our family. The next few years I tracked our net worth regularly and watched our spending like a hawk. I was not behaving the way I would tell any of my friends to act in a similar situation.

I’ve spent my entire career helping people understand their financial lives, and helping them to make smarter choices. I have learned over time that people’s relationship with money is deeply personal. In our internal financial lives we each have a “protector” and a “pleasure seeker” battling it out and one usually wins out. Because of this, we find ourselves repeatedly making the same financial mistakes. Rather than simply learning a lesson and moving on, we keep repeating the same mistakes until we learn to regulate both perspectives.

According to our own research, 70% of people in the U.S. approach money from a place of abundance (pleasure seeker) or one of scarcity (protector). That has some big implications when it comes to making financial choices, and ultimately how we end up living our entire lives. So let’s discuss the two biggest mistakes, their consequences, and what you can do about it:

1. Spending money too casually: The pleasure seeker

It’s easy to spend money and it’s hard to save it, because spending provides instant gratification and saving is a deferred reward. Many people would rather have the certainty of feeling good now than the possibility of feeling good later. The early warning signs of this pattern are high credit balances on your credit cards, low savings for retirement, and inadequate saving for your kid’s education or your rainy-day fund. More subtle but important markers are whether you avoid looking at your credit card bills, or if you don’t have a net worth summary that you update at least twice a year. We all have pleasure seekers inside us, but perhaps you are allowing this trait to overwhelm your need to save and protect.

2. Spending money too carefully: The protector

This might seem like a very strange bad habit. But despite what you might pick up from the media, a large portion of society uses money for security and doesn’t enjoy success enough. These protectors feel so good seeing their net worth increase that they would rather defer any spending for as long as possible. This might maximize their net worth but lead to an under-optimized life. The following are early warning signs: updating and reviewing your net worth summary all the time, feeling guilty after shopping, and seldom feeling like you can spoil yourself. While we all need money to keep us safe from bad outcomes, some folks let their protector take too dominant a role.

As in all things, balance is the key to a stable and healthy relationship with money. That often comes with time and experience, but first you need to be aware that the choices you make are harming you. Here’s a three-step plan to taking control of your bad money habits, whichever camp you fall into:

  • Step 1: Identify if you have a bad habit that has to change. How often do you regret your financial choices? If you feel trapped by money rather than in control of it, it might be time to acknowledge you have to change something.
  • Step 2: Identify whether you are primarily a pleasure seeker or a protector. No doubt you have largely justified why you act the way you do. But if you have not learned how to control your inner pleasure seeker or protector then you will keep repeating a pattern that is hurting you financially.
  • Step 3: Take action. The easiest way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.

After determining if you are a pleasure seeker or a protector, here’s what to do next.

If you spend too casually:

  • Review your net worth. Take all your assets and then subtract all your debt. Create a simple way to update this regularly. Set realistic goals of how much you would like to have in savings five, 10 and 15 years from now. Create a specific list of what those savings would provide you. Take pictures, link articles or write down specifics in order to make what you’re saving for tangible and rewarding.
  • Establish a realistic monthly budget that takes into account your habits but establishes a monthly amount to deferred responsibilities like building an emergency fund or amassing a down payment on a house. Match the savings to your targets for those longer-term goals.
  • Do something that forces you to think about what you are giving up every time you are about to spend money. Some folks wrap a rubber band or a piece of bright tape around their credit cards. Some wear a reminder wristband. Do something that will remind you every time you are about to spend that you are taking away from your long-term savings and what your savings will get you. This habit of thinking about the consequence of what you are spending will train your protector to become more dominant.

If you are too careful with spending:

  • Establish your priorities. You no doubt have a very good understanding of your net worth, but have you clearly articulated what you are saving the money for? If you had free rein to spend all your money over the coming 12 months, guilt free, what would you choose to do? Create a list of things you buy that bring you the most joy: vacations, dinners out, a nice car, new shoes—whatever makes you feel good.
  • Establish a reasonable budget for guilt-free spending that doesn’t compromise your longer-term goals. Have an annual number to spend for some of the things that bring you joy. Rewarding yourself in the here and now matters a lot and relieves some of the pressure you place on building your net worth.
  • Limit yourself to reviewing your net worth on a pre-set schedule. For most people, four times a year is more than enough. Also, create a simple reminder on your phone every week to see what you did with your “spoiling budget.” And once you’ve spent the money, take time to think about, and appreciate, what you got. Do not focus on what you spent!

Life is short. I have seen people struggle financially in their later years and have to be supported by their children. I have also seen parents sacrifice their entire lives to build a comfortable nest egg, only to watch their kids spend the money buying the things the parents never bought themselves. The good news is that learning from past experiences can start right now. Thanks to my mistake a decade ago, I take every opportunity to spend time with my family, max out my vacation time, and relish our time together. I’m not sure I would have gotten there without the lessons of the past.


Joe Duran, CFA, is CEO and founder of United Capital. He believes that the only way to improve people’s lives is to design a disciplined process that offers investors a true understanding about how the choices they make affect their financial lives. Duran is a three-time author; his latest book is The Money Code: Improve Your Entire Financial Life Right Now.

MONEY early retirement

Do This If You Want to Retire Early

Ask the Expert Retirement illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I’m married, and we are in our early to mid-50s with just under $700,000 in savings. My husband makes around $55,000 a year, and I make $135,000 a year. We would really like to retire before 65 (our full retirement age for Social Security is 67). I have a pension that will pay out $1,132 a month with a 50% survivor’s benefit for my husband. But we’re not sure whether we can pull it off. I max out my 401(k) but never seem to have any extra money to put into savings. How we can get to where we want to be? – Elizabeth, Lisle, Illinois

A: Achieving your dream of early retirement may be doable. But you’ll need to step up your savings and control your expenses, says Ray Lucas, senior vice president of planning at of Integrated Financial Partners. “It all comes down to the lifestyle you want to lead,” says Lucas.

First, let’s take a look at where you are now. If you are saving the max amount of $18,000 annually in your 401(k)—not including catch-up contributions, which we’ll get to in a moment—that’s 13% of your salary or 10% of your combined incomes. If you continue saving at that rate and get a 6% annual rate of return, you’d have about $1.1 million in five years at age 60.

That sounds like a tidy sum, but it may not go as far as you think over a long retirement. Let’s assume you want to replace 75% of your pre-retirement income, which would come to $140,000. It helps that you have a pension that will give you $13,000 a year. And there’s also Social Security—the average annual benefit for a couple who claim at full retirement age is $25,000 a year. But to provide an additional $100,000 in annual income, you will need to save at least $3 million. Assuming a 3.5% withdrawal rate, that portfolio would likely last you until age 95, or 35 years.

Even if you wait till 65 to retire, you are on track to amass “only” $1.6 million. So you will need to dramatically boost your savings rate to meet those goals, says Lucas. That may be tough since you say you are already have trouble putting away more.

But even if you can’t reach those savings targets, you may be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle on less than a six-figure income—most people do. In which case an early retirement is still very possible.

The first step is to analyze your retirement spending needs. Start by completing an expenses worksheet such as this one, which covers everything from your mortgage and property taxes to eating out and buying groceries. Be sure to factor in health care costs too. You can’t enroll in Medicare till you’re 65, so if you retire earlier, you will need to buy private health insurance for a few years. Also take into account whether you will be helping anyone else out financially, such as children or an elderly parent.

Next, make a full assessment of all your sources of income. Use a retirement calculator to see how much income your savings and pension will provide based on the year you want to retire. And be sure to consider the best possible claiming strategies for Social Security—married couples often have more options for taking Social Security, such as file-and-suspend, which can boost their income. The Social Security calculator available online at Financial Engines will run thousands of scenarios to help you identify the best choices.

And even though you may find it difficult, look at ways to increase your savings. In your 50s, you can make catch-up contributions to your 401(k), which can raise your total savings to $24,000 a year. Be sure to jump on opportunities to do bursts of savings—socking away big chunks of money when large expenses fall away, such as paying for college for your kids. And practice now for retirement by living on a smaller budget, which will enable you to sock away more.

If none of this gets you closer to your goals, consider working another year or two or taking on a part-time job after you retire. Another smart move may be to downsize to a smaller home or relocate to a lower-cost area, which will enable you to build your portfolio—plus, the lifestyle will be easier on your budget after you stop working.

“Retiring early often means making trade-offs, now and later,” says Lucas. “But with smart planning and disciplined saving, you can make it a reality.”

Want to fast-track your retirement savings? Check out MONEY’s Ultimate Retirement Guide

MONEY Savings

The Real Reasons Americans Aren’t Saving Enough for Retirement

$100 bill on target and darts on wall
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (4)

Retirement savers face challenges on multiple fronts.

When it comes to saving for retirement, most American workers are not only falling short, they don’t even know how behind they are. What’s more disturbing, research shows that savings trends are getting worse, despite a decades-long push to enroll workers in 401(k)s and other employer plans.

The retirement disconnect is highlighted in a new survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, which includes responses from 4,550 full-time and part-time workers between the ages of 18 to 65+. Overall, some 59% reported they were “somewhat” or “very” confident that they will be able to retire comfortably.

To maintain this comfortable living standard, more than half think they’ll need at least $1 million saved by retirement, and 29% believe they’ll need $2 million. Those targets have increased in recent years, according to Transamerica—the typical savings goal was just $600,000 in 2011.

So how much have these workers got socked away? Overall, the typical worker savings account held $63,000. That’s up from $43,000 in 2012, but also far from what’s needed for a $1 million retirement. Even among baby boomer households, the group closest to retirement, the median account held just $132,000.

Given these relatively meager savings, you may well wonder how workers can still be so optimistic about their golden years. Part of the reason is the long-running bull market, which has led to a gradual recovery from the financial ravages of the recession. Some 56% of those surveyed say that they have bounced back fully or partially; 21% say they were not impacted by the downturn.

It’s also likely that many workers simply don’t understand what it will take to meet their goals. More than half (53%) say they “guessed” when asked how they estimated how much they need to save for retirement. Two-thirds acknowledged they don’t know as much as they should about retirement investment. And just 27% say saving for retirement is their greatest financial priority vs. “just getting by” (21%) and “paying off debt” (20%). The typical worker saves just 8% of salary, while most experts recommend 15% or more.

The Persistence of Wealth

This savings shortfall was a focus of studies presented at the Retirement Research Consortium held recently in Washington. Following up an earlier study that found that roughly half of Americans die with $10,000 or less in assets, professors James Poterba of MIT and Harvard’s Steven Venti and David Wise looked at possible reasons that the money ran out. Perhaps retirees spend their money too quickly, or perhaps they have few assets to begin with.

Analyzing Health and Retirement Study data for different generational cohorts, the researchers found that how much subjects had the first year their assets were measured showed the strongest determinant of the amount of the wealth they had at the end of life. For older Americans, 52% who had less than $50,000 at the end also had that amount when first surveyed. For the younger cohort: 70% of those with less than $50,000 in assets when last surveyed also had that skimpy amount when first observed.

By contrast, those who had significant balances at the start also held those balances at the end—confirming both the persistence of wealth and, at the same time, the lack of savings progress for most Americans. Poterba offered possible reasons for this trend, including that workers may simply choose not to save; at each income level, he pointed out, there are high and low savers, so earnings aren’t the only factor.

Still, lack of wage growth, the disappearance of pensions, and the decline in 401(k) coverage among private sector workers, especially low- and middle-income households, contribute to the problem for younger Americans. This last point was emphasized by John Sabelhaus, an assistant director at the Federal Reserve, in a discussion of Poterba’s paper. Data from the Survey of Consumer Finances show that low- and middle-income workers are losing retirement plan coverage, he noted. (A similar trend can be found in the Transamerica survey, which showed that just 66% of workers were offered an employer retirement plan in 2015 vs. 76% in 2012.)

What You Can Do

Both Poterba and Sabelhaus emphasized the importance of Social Security for Americans with few assets. Beyond that, the only solution is to save as much as you can. But there are behavioral hurdles to boosting the savings rate. In another study a team of researchers, including Gopi Shah Goda of Stanford and Aaron Sojourner of the University of Minnesota, found savers face two major mental blocks; some 90% of Americans hold one or both, which drag down retirement savings by an estimated 50%.

One of these mental blocks is procrastination—it’s hard to resist the immediate gratification you get from spending. The other hurdle, which is less obvious, involves financial literacy. Most people don’t grasp the power of compound savings. As Sojourner explained at the conference, the majority of people believe savings grow in a straight line. Only 22% understand that savings growth is exponential: as your savings compound, you earn interest on interest, which enables your savings to grow faster and faster.

In short, it can take a long time to save your first $1 million, but it’s a lot quicker to get to $2 million. If more Americans understood this, and acted on it, there would be good reason to be optimistic about retirement.

Want to fast-track your retirement savings? Check out MONEY’s Ultimate Retirement Guide

MONEY retirement planning

The 4 Questions You Must Get Right for a Secure Retirement

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Getty Images

To stay on track to a comfortable retirement, focus on these four essentials.

Given the flood of often confusing and conflicting information from financial services firms, market pundits and the media, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters when it comes to retirement planning. No doubt that’s one reason only 32% of American workers surveyed by Personal Capital reported they are very or somewhat prepared for retirement. But there’s an easy way to improve your odds of a secure post-career life: Focus on the fundamentals, which can be boiled down to these four key questions:

1. Are you saving enough? How much is enough? Well, if you get started early in your career and experience no disruptions to your savings regimen, you may very well be able to build a nest egg well into six or even seven, figures by stashing away 10% of pay each year, especially if your employer is throwing some matching funds into your 401(k). But not everyone gets that early start and sticks to it. So I think a more appropriate target—and one cited in a Boston College Center for Retirement study—is 15% a year.

Of course, if for whatever reason you’re getting a late start on your retirement planning, you may have to resort to more draconian measures, such as ratcheting up your savings rate above 15%, putting in a few extra years on the job before retiring and scouting out innovative ways to cut expenses and save more. There are a number of free online calculators that can help you estimate on how much you should be saving to have a reasonable shot at a comfortable retirement. Don’t despair if the figure the calculator recommends is too high. You can always start with an amount you can handle and then increase it by a percentage point or so a year until you reach your target rate.

2. Do you have the right investing strategy? By the right strategy, I mean tuning out the incessant Wall Street chatter and the pitches for dubious investments and concentrating instead on building a well-balanced portfolio that jibes with your risk tolerance while also giving you a reasonable shot at the returns you need to achieve a comfortable retirement. Fortunately, that’s fairly easy to do. Start by gauging your true appetite for investment risk by completing this free 11-question risk tolerance-asset allocation questionnaire from Vanguard. Then, using the mix of stocks vs. bond funds the tool recommends as a guide, create a portfolio of broadly diversified low-cost index funds.

The portfolio doesn’t have to be complicated. Indeed, simpler is better: a straightforward blend of a total U.S. stock funds, total U.S. bond fund and total international stock fund will do. The idea is to keep costs down—ideally, below 0.5% a year in annual fund expenses—and avoid toying with your stocks-bonds mix except to rebalance every year or so (and perhaps to shift your mix more toward bonds as you near and then enter retirement).

3. Are you fine-tuning your plan as you go along? Retirement planning isn’t a task you can complete and then put on autopilot for 20 or 30 years. Too many things can change. The financial markets can take a dive, a job layoff might upset your savings regimen, a health or other emergency could force you to dip prematurely into your retirement stash. So to make sure that you’re still on track to retirement despite life’s inevitable curve balls, you need to periodically re-assess where you stand and determine whether you need to make some tweaks to your plan.

The best way to do that is to fire up a good retirement calculator that uses Monte Carlo simulations. For example, by plugging in such information as your current salary, retirement account balances, how your investments are divvied up between stocks and bonds and your projected retirement date, the calculator will estimate your chances that you’ll be able to retire in comfort if you continue on your current path. If your chance of success is uncomfortably low—say, below 80%—you can see how moves like saving more, investing differently or postponing retirement might improve your retirement outlook. Doing this sort of evaluation every year or so will allow you to make small adjustments as needed to stay on track, reducing the possibility of having to resort to more dramatic (and often more disruptive) moves down the road.

Read next: This Overlooked Strategy Can Boost Your Retirement Savings

4. Have you developed a retirement income strategy? If you’ve successfully dealt with the three questions above, you’re likely well on the path to a secure and comfortable retirement. But there’s one more thing you need to do to actually achieve it: Develop a plan for turning your retirement nest egg into reliable income that, along with Social Security and other resources, will provide you the spending dough you need to sustain you throughout a long retirement.

Typically, creating such a plan involves such steps as doing a retirement budget to estimate how much income you’ll actually need to maintain an acceptable standard of living in retirement; deciding when to take Social Security to maximize lifetime benefits; figure out how much of your retirement income you would like to come from guaranteed sources like Social Security, pensions and annuities vs. draws from savings; and, setting a reasonable withdrawal rate that will provide sufficient income without too high a risk of running through your nest egg too soon.

Clearly, you’ll also want to devote some time to non-financial, or lifestyle, issues, such as thinking seriously about how you’ll live and what you’ll do after retiring, whether you’ll stay in your current home or downsize or, for that matter, even relocate to an area with lower living costs to stretch your retirement budget. But if you want a realistic shot at a secure and comfortable retirement, you need to answer the four questions above.

Read next: Why Social Security Is More Crucial Than Ever for Your Retirement

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com. You can tweet Walter at @RealDealRetire.

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MONEY Budgeting

I Saved $800 in 6 Months by Quitting Smoking

Vincentius Christian / EyeEm—Getty Images

Dan Baier, 22, used to smoke 16 cigarettes a day.

It’s not like anyone starts smoking thinking it’s a good financial decision, but it’s amazing how expensive the habit can be. If you’re a smoker, you might be surprised to learn how much money you’ll save if you quit.

Dan Baier, 22, quit smoking in March, and as of the start of August, he had saved about $800 by not buying cigarettes. Quitting wasn’t a financial decision, but it’s been a motivating side-effect, which he continues to track.

“If you asked me if I thought in a 150 days or however I would have smoked 2,500 cigarettes — it’s over that now — or saved $900 by now, I would have said you were crazy,” Baier said. He calculated the figures using an app called QuitNow! (he bought the pro version), but he said he entered a conservative average of 16 cigarettes a day at $6.50 a pack. His actual savings may be greater, he said.

Baier said he didn’t quit on purpose, though he had tried and failed at it a few times, since he started smoking at age 15. He got a cold in March and found himself physically unable to smoke, and by the time the cold cleared, he had already gone through withdrawal. He said he hasn’t smoked since.

About three weeks after quitting, Baier wondered how much he was saving (“I’m an engineering student, so I’m kind of a nerd about this stuff”) by no longer buying cigarettes. He bought packs that cost $7 but usually had a $1 off coupon (“That’s why I bought them”), and he said he paid full price about half the time. Cigarette prices vary by state and city (Baier lives in Michigan), so each smoker’s potential savings could be quite different, when factoring in location and smoking frequency.

As of Aug. 10, when I interviewed him, Baier said he had saved up to $889 and 10 days of time, assuming an average 6-minute break per cigarette. Baier said he has enjoyed following the progress of his savings, which he will continue to track.

Any time you cut a regular expense out of your spending, that money can easily go toward other occasional purchases, but Baier decided to save the money. He and his girlfriend had long wanted to get a nicer bed (they were sleeping on a futon), and that was the obvious choice when he was deciding what to do with the savings.

“It turned into us just putting money away,” Baier said. “Once I hit $600, I went and bought a nice mattress and she went and bought a bed frame.”

Saving money is certainly a nice perk and motivates him to stay away from smoking, but he doesn’t think it would have been enough to trigger a decision to quit. That has a lot more to do with handling the social fallout, he said.

“It’s kind of cool to visualize it (the QuitNow! data), but I feel like it’s kind of a separate thing,” Baier said. “In the end it’s more of like your will power.” As for his advice to others who want to quit, he said: “Remember you can’t even have one.”

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MONEY Social Security

Why Social Security Is More Crucial Than Ever for Your Retirement

Social Security card
Michael Burrell—Alamy

As the program turns 80, it's fast becoming the last source of guaranteed lifetime income for most retirees.

Social Security, the long-embattled entitlement that lifts 15 million seniors out of poverty and is the sole source of income for nearly one in four recipients, turns 80 on Aug. 14. Its future remains tenuous as ever. Yet the program has never served a more vital and widespread need.

Social Security isn’t just a lifeline for the less advantaged; it’s an increasingly rare source of guaranteed lifetime income for just about everyone. Four decades ago, traditional private pensions played much of that role by providing lifetime monthly payments to millions of retired Americans, giving them the ability to live well even if they had little savings. Today, most workers have a 401(k) plan and will have to rely on their own ability to draw down assets at a rate that won’t bankrupt them before they die.

That’s a tall order. Most folks have little ability to properly manage their life savings. Common strategies like the 4% withdrawal rule, while helpful, are oversimplified and do not always work. Efforts are under way to help savers seamlessly and inexpensively convert their nest eggs to a guaranteed lifetime income source. But such policy change takes years, so for many seniors Social Security will stand alone as a reliable means to cover inflation-adjusted fixed living costs until the day they pass.

Social Security benefits have been in peril since even before the first check was cut to Ida May Fuller on Jan. 31, 1940. When the program was enacted in 1935, during the first presidential term of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, critics charged it was redistributionist and should be ended. Those arguments failed to stop the program, but today many see the entitlement as unaffordable. Indeed, the Social Security trust fund is on track to run dry in 2034. At that time, the program would be able to meet only 79% of scheduled benefits; over the following 55 years, payouts would decline to just 73% of benefits.

And yet somehow the program survives. Today the Social Security Administration collects payroll taxes from 210 million workers. It pays out more than $800 billion in annual benefits to 60 million retired and disabled beneficiaries. Despite the fiscal problems, the largest percentage of American workers in 15 years say that Social Security benefits will be a major source of their retirement income.

That’s partly due to many Americans not saving enough. More than half of U.S. adults have not taken any steps to address the risk of outliving their savings, according to the Northwestern Mutual 2015 Planning and Progress study. A third believe there is at least a 50% chance they will outlive their savings, while 12% say they are certain their savings will run out.

Faith in Social Security as a backstop, however, is strongest among Americans 50 and older. More than 80% of those ages 20 to 49 are concerned the program will not be there for them, according to a study from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Reflecting the shift away from traditional pensions, 68% in the study say their 401(k) or IRA will be a significant source of retirement income.

Only now is this shifting income source beginning to be felt on a broad scale. In 1982, 44% of retiree income came from traditional pensions and Social Security, Brookings Institution found. By 2009 that figure had barely changed, rising to 46%. This is because traditional pensions have been phased out slowly and millions of today’s retirees still receive them. But we’ve reached an inflection point—from here on, new retirees will receive increasingly less of a pension benefit. This will make Social Security an ever-larger component of the typical senior’s retirement income.

Even retirees with considerable savings depend to a surprising degree on this program. Payouts from Social Security and pensions account for 35% of income for the wealthiest seniors, according to Brookings researchers. The rest comes from savings withdrawals. If wealthier retirees do not manage their drawdowns well—and as traditional pensions fade away—Social Security will become a vital resource for them, as it is now and long has been for much of America.

Read next: How Reading Your Social Security Statement Can Make You Richer

MONEY Financial Planning

What’s Your Biggest Money Worry?

Do you worry more about repaying your student loans or saving for retirement?

We asked people in Times Square what’s their biggest money worry. Some said they worried about paying back their student loans–unlike the grads of this university, who got their degree for free–while some worry more about saving for retirement. One man even told us his biggest worry about money is how it can “control your mind.”

Read next: This Worry Keeps 62% of Americans Up at Night

MONEY Savings

5 Money Tips for Millennials Who Want to Start Planning for the Future

Jenner Images—Getty Images

Many millennials have a pessimistic outlook on their personal finances because of the financial crisis.

Pilar Belendez-DeSha was trying to figure out her next move.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, she was getting her geography degree at the University of Kentucky, but she did not have a plan.

“All the jobs I was looking at paid really poorly, and I wasn’t hearing about anyone getting hired except for internships that paid less than $25,000 a year,” said Belendez-DeSha, 30, now a graduate student in New York City. “College wasn’t paying off at that time … And I was kind of freaking out about having a financially sound life.”

There was an emerging consensus that so-called millennials – or people who reached young adulthood around the year 2000 – would face tougher financial challenges than their parents’ generation. At the same time, Belendez-DeSha saw her father lose money on the stock market and her mother struggle to find a job.

“When you see your parents try to figure things out, everything becomes a little iffy,” she said.

Belendez-DeSha is not alone. Many millennials have a pessimistic outlook on their personal finances because of the financial crisis.

According to insurer Northwestern Mutual, 28% of millennials are less comfortable taking risks with their finances than they were in 2008 and 71% prefer to play it safe with investments, even at the risk of lower returns. Additionally, 62% agree that over time there likely will be more financial crises.

“This generation is particularly concerned, confused and maybe even a little distrusting,” said personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi.

Here are five financial tips for millennials who are concerned about their financial future.

Take Advantage of Your Age

Your youth is one of your biggest assets. Take advantage of your time and energy to make as much money as possible.

Not all of your income has to come from one source, said Torabi. You can rent out your apartment via Airbnb, find side gigs at TaskRabbit.com, a tutoring job via tutor.com and discover freelance opportunities at upwork.com.

But do not expect to hit pay dirt right away: With a friend, Belendez-DeSha started a small design business that made no money. She was also walking dogs, catering and cooking at various restaurants on the side.

Rethink Real Estate

During the financial crisis, many parents of millennials thought that real estate was a safe investment. “Property is just like any other investment,” said Chantel Bonneau, wealth management adviser at Northwestern Mutual. “Just like buying a stock, it won’t always work out.”

Buy a home because you want to live in it, not because you assume you will make a profit, experts say. Make sure you are not borrowing more than you can pay off.


Every four years, a dip in the financial market is expected, said Bonneau. That is why it is important to diversify your investments. Examples of different assets are permanent life insurance, rental properties, emergency funds, cash holding accounts, primary property and nonretirement investments.

Save Early and Often

Bad and unexpected things can happen. Spend less than you earn and build an emergency fund to cover three to six months of expenses. Automatically deduct cash from your checking account weekly or monthly to fund the emergency account.

“The more money you have set aside, the better position you will be in for whatever life throws at you,” said Stuart Ritter, senior financial planning analyst at T. Rowe Price .

Make a Financial Plan

Work on your financial plan. Set goals. What is important to you? Is it having a family or owning property – or both?

Track your cash flow with apps like Mint.com or LevelMoney to see what comes in every month and what goes out. That will provide financial clarity.

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