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You and your money. Get small.

Peter Hirsch | 5/6/2013, 11:02 a.m.

How often do you hear, “We’re in a down economy?” I’d like to give you perspective on this. Is it possible that rather than being in a down economy we are in a forever-changed economy? See, “down” implies “up” and we may never see those inflated artificial “ups” again, or at least not in the same way. We are in a value-driven economy. We are in a personal economy. It is now all about the personal value you bring to the marketplace. To begin, it’s time to get small. And I mean get small fast.

The question I get more than any other is this: How do I begin? How do I start saving? After all, it is difficult to start a new habit, and none of us entered this culture of debt on purpose. I remember my first foray into debt. Here’s how it happened. I was beginning my freshman year at college and carrying a stack of books that almost covered my eyes. Just before I reached the counter to pay, I passed a big tent with pretty girls wearing Citibank hats and T-shirts. That was the moment when I first sold my soul. They had no business offering a college kid with no credit a credit card, and I had no business entering the world of debt just so I could talk to some pretty girls and get a free hat. Here’s the reality. All of us – the wealthy, the struggling and the poor are all playing on the same financial game board, but we’re not playing the same game. While the wealthy are playing chess, those giant institutions are teaching and encouraging the rest of us to play checkers. It’s time we all start playing the right game – and that starts with saving.

So here’s a suggestion: While some people are worried about what the stock market is doing to their savings, others are worried because they aren’t saving at all. To get started saving, “think small.” Those two sodas a day you drink at $1 each could save you $520 a year. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider depositing $520 in an account that averages 6 percent interest over time, you’d end up with nearly $21,300 in 30 years after taxes. Don’t buy sodas each day? Then set aside your pocket change daily, even if it’s only 50 cents. That’s $180 a year, and nearly $7,400 after it has earned interest for 30 years. Every day is a great day to start the savings habit. Few people get rich from their savings alone. But by taking advantage of the “miracle” of compound interest almost anyone can reach long-term financial goals. One key strategy is to pay off high-cost debt. One of the best investments you can make is to pay off any consumer debt with double-digit interest.

To lighten the mood for a bit, here’s some “economic humor.”

THE ECONOMY IS SO BAD …

• The economy is so bad that I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

• It’s so bad, I ordered a burger at McDonalds and the kid behind the counter asked, “Can you afford fries with that?”

• The economy is so bad if the bank returns your check marked “Insufficient Funds,” you call them and ask if they meant you or them.

• The economy is so bad Hot Wheels and Matchbox stocks are trading higher than GM.

• The economy is so bad parents in Beverly Hills fired their nannies and learned their children’s names.

My goal through these columns is to help you live a significant life. Generous giving is a key to living a life of significance but how can you possibly be a generous giver if you’re spending everything – and more – than you are earning. So, get small. Live below your means. Stop spending everything you’re earning. And pay yourself first. If you live by that, you will be able to be a radical and generous giver.