New finance column: Zero dollars or financial calm? Your choice |

New finance column: Zero dollars or financial calm? Your choice

Imagine 17 states, all with the same population as Colorado, scattered throughout the U.S. Now imagine that not one of the working age people in those 17 states has put aside even $1 for the future. That’s a total of 75 million workers with less than 100 pennies saved for retirement.

That number is not made up; it’s reality. If you’re one of these people, the good news may be that you’re certainly not alone; in fact, there are 74,999,999 others just like you.

But the reality is stark. Millions of people are rightfully concerned about the future, wondering what will happen to them when they reach retirement age, when they become ill, when they are laid off for an unexpected reason. That’s personal, and it’s scary.

It’s also unsustainable for the country. When we talk about Social Security being stretched to the breaking point and we think of everyone in those 17 states needing major assistance upon retirement, we realize that it’s simply impossible for our government to bankroll their futures.

The retirement balances of workers who actually have saved and invested aren’t particularly encouraging, either.

The average 50-year-old has $42,797 saved. Financial experts tell us we should realistically have a minimum of seven times our annual salaries put aside by the time we retire. So if the average income of all households is $46,325 (U.S. Census Bureau) an average household should accumulate at least $325,000. Most of us are nowhere near that number.

Do you want to feel financially secure? Do you hope your kids are able to avoid those gut-wrenching worries of never having enough money? Most of us do.

I know we’re not stupid, but 65 percent of Americans ages 25-65 know very little about financial literacy. (This is from a 2011 study measuring knowledge of fundamental financial principles such as compound interest, risk diversification and the effects of inflation.)

Do your eyes glaze over with terms like these? Please, for a few minutes every other week, keep your eyes open. As a former public school educator, I have worried plenty about money. But I got some good advice, read books from the experts and learned things that can help most of us without giving us brain burn.

David Bach, one of those financial gurus, says, “Many people buy books about money, but few ever actually finish them.”

So let’s get rid of the long book idea. All we absolutely must have is a basic understanding of how much more we can end up with if, for example, we save and invest early in our careers rather than waiting until we’re almost ready to retire. We could enjoy close to a million dollars instead of the small sums that most Americans have when they quit working. We can feel powerful over our finances; with knowledge, we can prosper.

Many of us just need to know some key things about money. These ideas are so basic that they can be discussed in this biweekly column. If you read it and follow the few steps that I’ll describe, in just a few months you can be on the way to climbing out of the nightmare in which 75 million Americans find themselves.

Until next time, why not think about those statistics you’ve just read? Now make a decision: Decide that you will be a person who can and will become financially stable and secure. With a little knowledge and a few simple steps, financial calm can be yours.

Terrie Drake is a grandmother, author of the book “A Quiet Fortune,” and a retired teacher and librarian. She has lived in Glenwood Springs with her husband since 1974. She is not a financial adviser; consult a competent professional for your personal financial solutions. She can be contacted at

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