Why You’re Supposed to Be Extra Focused on Saving Money This Week

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If you’re been splurging and throwing money around lately, perhaps you didn’t get the memo: February 19 to 26 is officially dubbed “America Saves Week.” Feel free to go back to your freespending ways starting February 27.

Just kidding, of course. The point of America Saves Week, coordinated by the American Savings Education Council and the non-profit Consumer Federation of America, is to promote sensible savings habits that last year-round.

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Apparently, too few American consumers have such habits. The America Saves Week press release highlights survey data indicating that the number of people who are prudently saving enough is dwindling. In 2010, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans surveyed said that they spent less than they earned and saved the rest. But in 2012, the percentage had shrunk to two-thirds (66%). Similarly, just 52% of Americans today say they are saving enough for retirement, compared to 60% in 2010.

Why are people saving less? In many cases, because it’s impossible given the current economy and the difficulty of finding well-paid jobs:

“The recession clearly has not ended for millions of American families, especially those with lower incomes,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA Executive Director and a founder of America Saves. “Many working families are still apparently suffering from the high unemployment rate, stagnant incomes, and a depressed housing market.”

In another new survey, conducted by Bankrate, people were asked the question: “How do you feel about the amount of money you have in savings compared to 12 months ago?” Nearly half (46%) answered “about the same,” while far more checked the box for “less comfortable” than “more comfortable”—38% vs. 14%, respectively.

Beyond doing the obvious and, you know, trying to save more money, how does one participate in America Saves Week? The event’s organizers say that nearly 1,000 banks, employers, and government entities are doing something special in honor of the week. Mostly, they’re encouraging everyday consumers to save. One of the favored recommended strategies is automating savings, so that the consumer doesn’t have to think about putting money aside—and so that the consumer doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing at all.

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A MarketWatch story explains the gist, which is a staple of most personal finance advice:

Save automatically. If you have a savings plan with your company, make sure you’re a part of it. Many will match your savings dollar-for-dollar, which is a better interest rate than you’d find at any bank these days. Also, get into that 401(k) or other work-related retirement program. Outside of work, have a piece of your paycheck automatically deposited into a savings account, a mutual fund or a U.S. Savings Bond. What you don’t see you won’t miss, at least not as much.

For more advanced, experimental savers, one quirky option is something referred to as the Frugal Month. Basically, the idea is to commit to buying only necessities for an entire month—no dining out, no Starbucks, no splurges on shoes or a new set of skis, no surprise toy purchases for kids, and so on. Some families even time their showers and set the heat lower in order to decrease their utility bills.

Unsurprisingly, February seems to be the most popular month for taking on such a challenge—because it’s the shortest month of the year. It’s obviously too late to take on a Frugal February this year, but perhaps it’s worth giving it a try in another month, or February of 2013.

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And if you’re in the middle of a Frugal Month right now, keep saving, and keep your chin up. The finish line is approaching, and at least in theory, you’re in good company with millions of other consumers this week, while America Saves Week is happening.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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