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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Sen. Pat Jones and Gov. Gary Herbert talk about Utah Saves Week during a ceremony at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — Americans are saving more. They're finding power in "pay yourself first." And more of them are taking advantage of opportunities to save through work programs, such as 401(k) plans.

That's the good news in brand-new data from the Consumer Federation of America, released Tuesday, the same day Utah Saves Week kicked off at the state Capitol. The bad news is that during the past decade, for the first time since the Great Depression, Americans' personal saving rate had dipped into negative territory, Utahns' among them. That's one reason experts are collaborating on the weeklong campaign, which offers education programs, daily challenges and a chance to win prizes, including money.

Today's challenge is "Commit to Save." For a house, for retirement, for emergencies, for a child's education. For the future.

According to the CFA survey, 44 percent of individuals have some kind of savings, said Ann C. House, Extension assistant professor at Utah State University and the Utah Saves campaign coordinator. That's up from 41 percent last year. The number who take advantage of savings programs through work increased 5 percent to 54 percent. The other CFA stat shows that 85 percent of people who have a plan to save for emergencies follow through.

"It's all about the plan," House said. Some people have money automatically taken out of their paycheck. Some set aside a percentage or dollar amount.

Successful savers typically have their savings dollars sent directly into a savings account — or several like college, emergencies, vacation.

"Research shows that we live on what we bring home," said House, so that money isn't missed.

If an employer offers a match, experts say you should save enough to get the full amount if possible. It's free money.

It's okay to think small if you're starting out in the savings game, House and other experts agree. "You can start with quarters or by saving $5 a month."

Folks who say money's too tight have too little imagination. Someone who goes to lunch three days a week can start by eliminating the drinks with the meals and putting the buck or so for each into savings. That's easily $12 or more a month. Cut out dessert and you've liberated some more money to invest in yourself. As you get used to it, you could cut back to eating out twice a week instead of three times. The possibilities are many.

For more information or to report your results, visit www.imagineahappieryou.com

Wednesday's challenge:

Commit to save at utahsaves.org. Set a savings or debt reduction goal such as opening a savings account, adding to one, starting a college savings account at uesp.org or investing in a retirement account. Report it at imagineahappieryou.com for a chance to win one of the week's prizes.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com