Easy Steps


Learn How to harness the power of time


Time is the magic ingredient to a better future.
Albert Einstein called it “the eighth wonder of the world”. Find out why.

Compound interest helps supercharge your saving. By ‘reinvesting’ the earnings (leaving it in your account), you get every new dollar working for you as well. Your money starts growing exponentially. While it starts slow, the more time you give it, the more momentum is created.

Here’s an example:

Linda started early. At 25, she invested $5,000 per year for 10 years (until she’s 35). Once she hit 35, she stopped. She invested a total of $50,000.
Joe started a bit later, at 35. He also invests $5,000 per year, but continues for 30 years. He invests a total of $150,000.
Who do you think ends up with the most money?

Linda, who only invested 1/3 of what Joe did, ended up with far more, just by starting as early as possible.

The moral here is, the longer we wait to save for retirement, the more we miss out on the incredible power of compound interest. So that’s why we can’t discount saving small amounts TODAY. With time, those small amounts can grow to very significant totals.

If you don’t remember anything else from this program, remember this:  start saving NOW to take advantage of compound interest.

And since none of us start early enough, what’s important is that we start saving and investing the difference today.

In fact, let’s take this a step further.  What if we just started today finding a way to save $3 per day?

That’s easy, right?  Get a small coffee instead of a mega-giant latte, drink water instead at a meal, pack your lunch one day instead of going out.

First, you’re not alone.  Most people have not saved enough and many are also starting late.

No matter:  you can still harness the power of time.  The key is to start today-every dollar saved today is more valuable than a dollar saved tomorrow.

Also, you’ll want to take advantage of all the “catch-up” provisions that are allowed when you’re over 50.  Learn more in Catching Up Do’s and Don’ts at the bottom of the Retirement Easy Steps section.

As part of the benefit package, most employers offer something called an “employer match”.   That means that for the first specific percentage you contribute to your retirement plan, they’ll match it up to a certain percentage.

Let’s say your plan has a 3% match.   So when you contribute 3% of your paycheck to your retirement plan, your employer will contribute another 3%.  The extra 3% is the FREE MONEY.  And you get it EVERY year.

This is another way to supercharge your retirement savings!

Where else can you get FREE money?

Very simple:  Just make sure you are contributing enough to your retirement account to get the free match every year.  See your Human Resources department if you have any questions.

The Saver’s Credit is not well-known, but if you qualify, it can put some money in your pocket! Unfortunately, most people don’t know it exists, and you have to claim it to get credit, so an estimated 75% of the people eligible miss out on this free money.

As of 2017, the Saver’s Credit is available to those who have an adjusted gross income up to:

  • $31,000 for single filers and married individuals filing separately
  • $46,500 for heads of household
  • $62,000 for married couples filing jointly

It provides a credit up to $1,000 (or $2,000 for joint filers) for contributions to an IRA or to your company retirement plan.

This is a tax credit. This is far more valuable than a deduction, which just reduces your taxable income. A credit directly reduces your tax liability. So if you owe $2,000 for taxes and get a $1,000 savers credit, you just saved $1,000!

To determine your credit, see IRS Form 8880.


Get the FREE MONEY available to you


Double check you are not losing out on your employer match


Set an easy goal to get more of your money working for you


When spending, remember to have every dollar work hard for you

Saving for our future can seem like an insurmountable task.  So many people decide to deal with it later, when there’s more money or time to think about it.

Big Mistake!  In reality, it’s not as important how much we save, its actually more important when we do it.

Why?  Remember compound interest?  (Click here for the video).

So the first rule is to start with whatever amount we can add to our savings, no matter how small.  Even small amounts, saved starting TODAY can make a big difference.  If we wait a year, 2 years, 10 years….we lose that advantage.

How small?  How about $3 a day?

  • Order a plain coffee or tea instead of the giant latte
  • Drink water with lunch instead of ordering a drink
  • Skip buying the magazine and read the online website instead
  • Pack your lunch instead of going out
  • Use a few coupons at the grocery store

That small amount can make a big difference as long as we INVEST it.  Investing is different than saving.  Saving is good, but it’s really hard work.    But investing is totally different.  Over the short term, our investment may go up and down in value.

But even with all the ups and downs, per Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel in his book “Stocks for the Long Run”, stocks have returned an average of 6.5 percent to 7 percent per year after inflation over the last 200 years.    Yes, you read that right:  that’s 200 years.

That 200 year track record beats every other type of investment out there.

By investing through your retirement plan, its even better, since your investments aren’t taxed until you take the money out after retirement.

You see what can happen with only $3 per day.  Just think if we saved a bit more?

Three bucks a day is nothing.  Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Order a plain coffee or tea instead of the giant latte
  • Drink water with lunch instead of ordering a drink
  • When you’re out, order one less drink
  • Skip buying the magazine and read the online website instead
  • Pack your lunch instead of going out
  • Use a few coupons at the grocery store

Yes, if you need some motivation, you can use an app to make it fun and easy.   But remember, with that convenience comes costs, so be mindful of the fees.

One app you can try is Digits.  It gets to know your spending habits and takes a dollar here and a dollar there, so you don’t really notice the impact.  With this program, there is a monthly fee for this convenience.

Another one is Dobot.  It allows you to automatically save toward a specific goal, like adding to your retirement accounts, an emergency fund or a vacation.  It will also “find” safe savings amounts for you, so you don’t have to think about it.  It also includes other motivating features like goal sharing.  Again, you’ll pay a small monthly fee for this convenience.

Sad but true.  It is estimated that banks make about $4 billion per year on overdraft and NSF fees.

Don’t be one of those people giving to that cause!  Vow to keep these fees in YOUR pockets, not the banks, by establishing a bank account cushion.

A checking account cushion is simply an extra dollar amount you keep in your checking account to help avoid NSF and overdraft fees.

The key is don’t spend it!  Literally ignore it.  Act like that money is not there.  It stays in there, as a safety net.

How much do you need as your cushion?  It varies based on how much you usually spend each month.  For most of us it’s usually good to have between $500 and $1,000 cushion.

So, let’s use the savings we get from Easy Step 3, plus anything else we can find, to build up our checking account cushion as quickly as possible.  Another idea is to sell some stuff on EBay or consignment, or find some extra work to build this up more quickly.

The bank account cushion is there purely to avoid bounced checks and insufficient fund charges.  It stays in  your checking account.

An emergency fund, however, is designed to actually be used when you have an unexpected expense (an emergency).  This should be kept elsewhere where you cannot easily use it for some other purpose.  (Learn more about Emergency Funds it Easy Step 6 below.)

We should work towards having both.  While these things seem minor, the peace of mind we get as a result of these small savings accounts can be huge.


Create a checking account cushion to avoid unnecessary fees


You'll feel great knowing you aren't wasting money on overdraft and NSF fees.


Track your money for a short time to see where it's going


Not forever, just long enough to learn where you can cut back with the least amount of pain

Since we’re all so busy, it’s easy to get into a habit of mindless spending.  So often we may not even know where our money goes.  So the best way to find out is to do a bit of accounting.

We get it.  Accounting is not on anyone’s top 10 list.  Fortunately there are many cool apps out there that can do the hard work for us.

We don’t expect ourselves to track this detail forever, but we do need to take a quick snapshot to figure out where we are.  Our goal is to make sure all of our money is working harder for us, so its a win/win.

Yes, of course there is!  You can either do this with a program or an app on your phone.  Some of these services have both.  Many of these will automatically gather information from your accounts, so they can make this  process quick and painless.

Some that are free and well-known are BillGuard and Mint.  Try this quick video to learn about several options.

Or rather do it manually, here’s an online budgeting form that does the math for you.

You don’t have to do this forever, unless you want to .  But let’s commit to doing it long enough to see where your money REALLY goes.

Now it’s time to play Sherlock Holmes and see where your money is going.   You may be surprised at what you find.  Many of us spend far more than we think on things like dining out, entertainment, etc.

Remember, we want to make sure our money is working for us.  So anything we spend on should be maximized.  So here’s a few questions for you:

  1.  What items do you pay for and not really use much?  This might be cable TV subscriptions, long distance plans, health club dues, etc.  Could that money be deployed elsewhere for you so it will work harder?  With TV, we can always unchain from cable and just do online stuff.  Most of us don’t need a landline anymore.  If you use the gym, fine, but what about getting outside and walking, running, biking or hiking?  Might be way more fun and the price is right.  Then maybe supplement it with some dumbbells at home (c’mon, we mean the exercise kind!) or an online yoga subscription.
  2. What items show up alot that you could maybe decrease just a bit?  Dining and entertainment are big ones, definitely.  We won’t ask you to cut things out entirely–we need to go out too, but how about happy hour instead of full price cocktails?  Or dinner and lunch at home a bit more often to start?

There’s plenty of ideas in our Smarter Spending section, to save a lot of money without turning into the neighborhood cheapskate.  And for another strategy, check out the Mindful Spending quick 10 minute course.  A lot of our spending can be more automatic than anything else, so sometimes just being aware can make us make better choices without feeling deprived.

The other aspect of this exercise is to get an overall view of your financial health.  Which category do you fall into?

  1.  I live on less than I make.  Congratulations, that’s where we all want to be.  We want to live “below our means”, then put money to work for us by investing.  So this is a great start, but there’s probably more you can do to painless cut down your spending and set yourself up for an even better future.
  2. I’m breaking even.   Unfortunately many are in this boat, living month to month.  If we’re breaking about even, we’re treading water.  So time to start looking closer at Needs vs. WANTS.  When we spend during the day, is it something we really need or just something we want?  And we should also be actively looking—always– to see where we can save.  Every big expense should be looked at and shopped around.  You’ll find plenty of tips in the Smarter Spending section.  If you’re here, you’re probably feeling some financial stress. The good news is as you take control and find savings, you’ll feel better!
  3. I’m spending more than I make.  Unfortunately many of us are also in this boat.  There are times in life when we have no choice, and most of us have been there at one time or another, so let’s not beat ourselves up. Let’s just start taking these easy steps, starting with the the Smarter Spending section.   If we’re here because we simply just spend too much, the good news is that is an easy fix.  Again, the good news is by taking control, we’ll feel better.  As we make progress, it will be rewarding and we’ll feel better about things.

No matter where we fall on the spectrum, there is always a way to get our money working harder for us.  To start, let’s take a look at Mindful Spending in this section.

It’s not the regular expenses that create problems for us, since we know they are coming.  Instead, it’s the $2,000 emergency dental bill, the expensive vet bill, or the leaking roof that derails us.  Or with Obamacare, the big deductible when we need something significant done.  So instead of being continually taken by surprise, let’s plan for the unplanned, shall we?

The solution is to establish a special savings account and call it our Emergency Fund.

There’s no hard and fast rule, but most experts advise keeping the equivalent of 3 to 6 months of your average monthly income.

That number can be fine tuned based on a few factors including job security, marketability of your particular skills, your other assets, and other factors.

Ideal world, your emergency fund should sit in a savings account that gets a decent return.  Problem is, returns are low right now across the board.  Still, your money is available at a moment’s notice, which is a huge plus.  So normally, that’s where your emergency fund should be…somewhere you can get at quickly.

If you have high interest credit card debt, however, it doesn’t make sense to have money sitting in a 1% savings account when you’re paying 16% per year somewhere else.  Instead, it makes most sense to take your emergency fund savings and pay down that expensive credit card debt.  So if you’re putting aside $100 per  month for an emergency fund, pay down that card with the $100 each month.  Then, that particular credit card becomes your Emergency Fund Credit Card.  Translated: to be used ONLY for true emergencies.  No, those great boots or a night out doesn’t count.

Then, when you’ve paid down that debt, you can go about building a real emergency fund.  In the meantime, however, you’re at least making progress and have some capacity for handling the unexpected when it comes your way.  That will give you peace of mind and confidence!


Start an emergency fund so you're able to handle unexpected expenses


You'll feel confident knowing you're able to handle life's little financial emergencies

“It’s not what you earn…it’s what you keep.”


Here are more tips to keep you on track when getting organized and taking control of your money.

By taking small, easy steps NOW you use your biggest ally:  TIME.

Whether you’re paying off debt, spending less or investing, time is your friend!  If you give yourself more time by acting immediately, time will do some of the hard work for you.

We can make progress simply by paying attention to where our money goes.  The first step is awareness.  DO NOT apply judgement or start feeling guilty.
Instead, just think about where your money goes.  You work hard for your money.  Think about how hard each dollar you spend is working for you.


You pay your cable or phone bill.  Do you use all the features that you pay for? If you don’t, it’s time to adjust that so you’re not throwing extra money away.

Do you find yourself constantly buying hot and cold drinks throughout the day?  If so, can you buy those same drinks for a fraction of the price at the grocery store and bring them from home instead? Or switch to something else like water or tea we make ourselves (which is probably far healthier)?

Do you automatically buy something at the mall when shopping with family or friends, whether you need it or not?  Let’s think about if we need it or if the money could work harder for us by spending it on something we need or by investing it. And how about avoiding shopping as a social event? How about suggesting a hike, walk or bike ride somewhere outdoors or interesting. Would likely be far more fun too!

When we get in the mindset of getting our money working for us, things change.  If you realize how hard you work for each dollar, it can become harder to part with each one.

When you need to buy something, see if you can negotiate a deal.  Really, most everything is negotiable.  Some are obvious–like buying a car, used or new, negotiation is needed to bring the price down.  But even smaller things, like services, should be negotiated.  If you need a lot of dental work, for example, get a few quotes and negotiate.

Negotiation is a skill we all need to learn and practice.  Need to get better at it?  Read a quick primer on it–this is a necessary skill to keeping your money working for you.

Many times, we think that we’ll be better off waiting until we have more time to take control of our money.  Problem is, the time you delay is valuable….time is our most powerful ally.

So whatever you do, just do something.  Check out our Easy Steps and get started today!

So, you’re older and don’t have much saved.  Join the club!  Many of us are in the same boat.  Fortunately, our older years are usually are highest earning years and there are some shortcuts that you’ll learn about that can help you (link to 401k, ira, etc.  catchup provisions).

And anything we can do to take control and keep our money working for us, will help in the long run.

Yes, we know that it can be easy to do.  If you go whole hog and try to deprive yourself of any spending, you will feel deprived.  But, like crash dieting, we don’t recommend it.  A few weeks of no spending and we all naturally want to go out and go overboard.

So instead, we want to focus on getting our money working for us.  We’re repeating ourselves, I know but it is a great viewpoint.  You work hard for every dollar, so every dollar should work hard for you.

So instead of spending on everything, make sure what you spend on is something you truly love and not just something you’re buying on auto pilot.  And whatever you’re buying, why not see if you can save a bit.

That old saying “a penny saved is a penny earned” is true.  Really.  So you can get some instant gratification anytime you save some money.