NEW YORK (CNNfn) - You know your Sun sign, your skin type and your colors. You've even grown close to your inner child. But do you know your savings personality?|
If you've put away more on your spare salary than colleagues a decade older and spent last weekend mapping out your financial strategy, you're probably a "planner" or a "saver."
But if $300 doesn't seem too much to spend for really fabulous sunglasses on your Visa-sponsored trip to Paris, or you think retirement planning is just so much bunk, you may be an "impulsive" or a "denier."
Tale of two couples
Whatever the case, your money habits shouldn't - and needn't -- be a mystery to you, because they will affect the size of your nest egg.
Consider the following two couples.
Couple One, in their mid-50s, managed to sock away $4 million in invested assets and are now retired. When they were working, their combined income totaled no more than $150,000. "But they saved almost all of that," certified financial planner Chris Cordaro said.
They live in the first house they ever bought, and get by on no more than $50,000 a year.
"They're still in the mindset," Cordaro said. "They could afford to loosen it up a bit. But they're emotionally incapable of it."
Couple Two, in their late 60s, are still working and bring in about $300,000 a year. They live in a million-dollar house with a huge mortgage, and only have about $300,000 in savings - all of it in employer-contribution retirement plans.
"They were aware they were in trouble in terms of retirement, but they still weren't ready to face reality," Cordaro said. Facing reality would mean realizing the need to move to a less expensive home and give up their country club membership.
"It's not uncommon to meet people making good money and not saving anything," he added.
Both couples represent opposite ends of the savings personality spectrum -- and most Americans fall somewhere in between.
That spectrum has been broken out by the American Savings Education Council (ASEC) and the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), which created a savings personality quiz to poll Americans' attitudes toward financial and retirement planning.
The spenders of the world -- the less than one in four of those polled who fall under the categories of deniers and impulsives -- are what Cordaro terms "natural-born consumers." Both frequently spend money when they don't plan to buy anything and are often set back in their financial goals, either because they carry credit card debt or are not willing to take the necessary risk to garner financial gain.
On the other hand, the natural-born planners and savers that make up a little more than half of those surveyed are among the lucky ones when it comes nest-egg building. They are disciplined about saving and investing, research big purchases, and enjoy financial planning. "They get the same charge out of saving as spenders get out of spending," Cordaro said.
Then there are the strugglers, about one in five of those responding. They share many of the attitudes of planners and savers, and are disciplined about putting money away. But because they have so many day-to-day financial responsibilities cutting into their nest egg, they are not as confident about their retirement prospects.
Working toward a dollars-and-cents goal
All the types have one thing in common, however. A significant number of Americans -- between 30 percent and 60 percent in each category -- haven't taken the time to figure out specifically what they need to save for retirement, according to the 1999 Retirement Confidence Survey.
Regardless of how good you feel about your savings, or how disciplined you are, said ASEC President Don Blandin, it pays to know just how much you need to put away, especially if you're a spender looking to reform.
"The first step is setting a goal. That will drive the discipline," he said, noting that those who have calculated what they need have saved $66,500 on average, compared with $14,000 among those who haven't.
One quick way to get your baseline figure is to use ASEC's Ballpark Estimate worksheet.
Steps to take if you're a spender
If you're a spender and are not in line for any kind of divine intervention or endless trust fund, you can take some steps now to brighten your savings scenario.
The best thing, as always, is to participate in your 401(k) plan at work and maximize your contributions, or at the very least contribute 10 percent of your gross income, Cordaro said.
Then commit to a disciplined savings program outside your 401(k) -- such as putting monthly deductions from your bank account into an investment account or IRA.
But just as important as automating your savings is adjusting your attitude towards spending, especially if you have credit card debt.
One problem credit counselor Joan Ferrari sees again and again, especially among debt-riddled Generation Xers, is a tendency to spend first and think later.
"They're reactive with their money instead of proactive," said Ferrari, who works at the American Credit Counseling Service. "They don't stop to think how much money they're committing to interest charges."
To help people balance their savings needs and debt payments, she will often counsel her clients to pay at least $10 to $15 above the minimum due every month and put the same amount into the bank. And as your minimum balance declines, don't reduce your payments, she advises. Stay in the habit of paying the same amount every month.
A little sin is a good thing
Of course, any savings regimen, like a diet, can't be so stringent that you give up before you start or become anorexic. A healthy balance is the goal, whatever your money habits, Cordaro said.
"You can't be so focused on savings that you're not enjoying the money at all," he said.
At the same time, you shouldn't be margined to the hilt, opting for a string of luxury cars and expensive vacations today instead of a savings plan for tomorrow.
He and Blandin advise giving up a little lifestyle now to insure you have a decent one for the rest of your life.
No matter how much (or how little) money you make, just putting a small amount away on a regular basis will give you three-to-four times more than you would have had if you hadn't saved regularly. "Just a little bit goes a long way," Cordaro said.