Financial security begins with a plan of action

I’m hard core when it comes to saving money. Thanks to my grandparents’ insistence that I build a robust rainy day fund for myself, I’ve been putting aside earnings, albeit not always a lot, ever since my childhood.

I’m not entirely alone among good savers. AARP Volunteer Lisa Lum of Houston shares my enthusiasm for saving for the future. She got into the habit at a young age, prompted by a father who lived through the Great Depression.

For both of us, the savings habit has paid off. In Lisa’s case, she financed her college education, even conquering a doctoral program in mathematics without acquiring debt. Her savings savvy also put her on good financial footing when she married, and kept her family afloat after her husband required costly medical care in the latter years of his life. And though she’s encountered financial challenges in life, Lisa now owns three condominiums, two of which she uses today for rental income.

Of course, not everyone is financially sound. A recent AARP study of people age 40 to 64 finds that many Texans are on a path to financial uncertainty. More than half of those surveyed lack enough money for everyday expenses and nearly as many say they have recently had difficulty making ends meet. Many people also aren’t banking away as much as they should. One in four Texans in the survey have less than $5,000 put aside.

Health care expenses and children’s educational needs often get in the way of saving. Regardless, many of the people polled by AARP say they wish they had saved more, especially as they look toward retirement.

It’s especially important for women to be good savers if, for no other reason, the fact that we live longer than men. Many Texas women face obstacles to saving such as costly health needs, debt, children’s education, and the financial responsibilities of caregiving for their children, grandchildren, or parents. One in three has less than $5,000 in savings and one in five does not have access to any workplace retirement savings tools. Many Texas women recognize their retirement insecurity as over three in five of those surveyed are anxious about having enough money for their retirement, and four in five wish they had saved more.

To plan for our longer lives, we must tap into available resources, such as workshops and programs aimed at improving women’s financial literacy. AARP offers such programs, and they are also often offered by credit bureaus, religious organizations and civic groups.

Take it from me: Taking steps toward better savings can improve your outlook on life. A third of all Texans polled by AARP say they are feeling anxious about their financial futures. Try taking away the strain and worry, and start a conversation about saving money. Ask questions. Develop a plan. And though you may not have a crystal ball to peer into your financial future, you can begin, at least, with a plan of action.

Charlene Hunter James, AARP Texas

Charlene Hunter James is a volunteer with the AARP Texas Executive Council. She also volunteers with The Links and Texas Children’s Hospital. Ms. Hunter James earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas. She worked for the Houston health department for much of her career, eventually becoming the director of the local Area Agency on Aging. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million, including more than 2.2 million Texans.