Making the Most of Your Charitable Donations

As we make our way through the pandemic, not for profits and community organizations are facing increasing challenges not only in serving those in need, but in keeping their doors open. These circumstances have led to a significant increase in the number of groups asking for donations.

How do you decide which causes to support? Additionally, if you’re concerned about getting a tax deduction for your contribution, the higher standard deduction, established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, can make it a little more difficult.

These days you have to be strategic about those to whom you donate and the amount you give. Whether your donations are large or small, here are some ways to give meaningfully, stay true to your budget and to yourself—and possibly get a tax break as well

Personal strategies for giving

Just because you cannot give to every worthy cause, there’s no reason you have to feel ungenerous. With a little strategic planning, you can choose both the best place and the best way to share your good fortune.

  • Start with what’s important to you—Do you have a particular passion such as the arts, the environment, education, or fighting poverty? Is there an organization that has made a difference in your life? Giving to a cause that has a personal meaning can be both effective and rewarding.
  • Look to your own community—Making a financial contribution that will not only benefit a cause you believe in but also have a local impact can give your donation extra meaning. Consider a local food bank, a scholarship fund for a neighborhood school or a struggling homeless shelter in your city.
  • Narrow down your list—Chances are you can’t give to every charity on your list, so next think about where your donations will make the most difference and choose the top three. Consider doing a little extra research by comparing charities at an independent online rating service such as or before you make your final choices.
  • Apportion your money accordingly—Decide on an overall dollar amount you can afford, and then decide how to distribute it. You don’t have to give the same amount to each charity nor do you have to give all the money at once. Many organizations welcome small regular contributions over time.

Getting a tax benefit for your contributions

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Charitable contributions are still tax-deductible; howe ver, you have to itemize to get the benefit. With the higher standard deduction ($12,400 for a single filer, $24,800 for married filing jointly for 2020)—plus the reduction or elimination of many other itemized deductions—it can be a bit more of a challenge to get total deductions above that limit. Consequently, a lot of people will choose the standard deduction rather than claim the charitable deduction.

One possible solution is to give a larger amount every two or three years to help push you over the standard deduction rather than a smaller amount every year. This potentially would increase your deductions in the year you make your charitable contributions.

Also, to encourage giving and make it easier during the pandemic, the CARES Act provides a new “above the line” charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 if you claim the standard deduction in 2020. 

For people who itemize deductions, it expands the limits on cash charitable contributions from 60 percent up to 100 percent of 2020 adjusted gross income. 

Tax-smart ways to give

If tax advantages are an important part of your charitable-giving strategy, here are a couple of other ways to go about it.

  1. A donor-advised fund (DAF) is one of the easiest, tax-advantaged means of giving to charity. It’s potentially more of an initial financial commitment but the ongoing benefits to you and the charities of your choice make it worth considering. It generally takes a minimum of $5,000 to open a donor-advised fund account; however, you may qualify to get an immediate tax deduction for the entire amount, if you itemize. 
  2. If you donate appreciated assets, you could not only get a tax deduction, but also potentially avoid having to pay capital gains taxes. You then use the funds to make grants to any public charity and any money not immediately distributed can be invested, potentially increasing the amount available to give. To me, if you have the means, it’s a great way to make an upfront contribution that you can then strategically manage over time. Plus, you can do most of it online—and have easy access to your giving history.
  3. A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from an IRA is another option for retirees who are over the age of 70.5 to give up to $100,000 a year to certain qualified charities. With a QCD, the donation is made directly from an IRA to the charitable organization, which means you don’t have to include that distribution in your taxable income. 

Even though you don’t get a tax deduction from a QCD, it can be a tax efficient way to give—since the alternative of taking that distribution in to your income first and then making a donation could result in a higher tax on your Social Security benefits and Medicare premiums. In addition, a QCD can be used towards your required minimum distribution.

Whether you give a lot or a little, contribute money or time, by sharing what you have today you’re making a difference and investing in a better tomorrow for everyone.

This blog post was excerpted from an online article by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable

How Would You Rate Your Financial Know-How?

If someone asked you to rate your financial know-how on a scale of 1-7 (with 7 being the highest) where would you place yourself? 

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If you are like the Americans who participated in the 2018 Financial Investor Regulatory Authority (FINRA) National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), you would probably give yourself a pretty high score. 

In that study, 76% of respondents placed themselves in the 5-7 range. The reality is that only 34% of those who participated could correctly answer at least four of five basic financial literacy questions on topics such as mortgages, interest rates, inflation and risk.

Curious about your own answers? Here’s your chance.

Click on this link at the bottom of this post to take the Financial Literacy Quiz. It not only gives you an immediate score, it shows you how you compare to others in your state. 

Whether the quiz confirms your knowledge or serves as a personal wake-up call, the generally low results of the NFCS definitely demonstrate the need to improve financial literacy in our country. The good news is that there’s tangible proof that financial education works.

  • According to the 2018 NFCS, nearly half of Americans (49%) who have received more than ten hours of financial education report spending less than they earn, compared with 36% of people who received less than ten hours of financial education.
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  • Research from the 2020 Council of Economic Education Survey of the States shows that students who receive financial education borrow more sensibly, from student and personal loans to credit cards.
  • Results from the PISA assessment show that young people and adults in both developed and emerging economies who have been exposed to high quality financial education are more likely than others to plan ahead, save and engage in other responsible financial behaviors.

The good news is that whether you are a parent, a teacher, an employer or a concerned member of your community, there are things you can do to help promote financial education for everyone in your community.

  1. The Global Financial Literacy Center offers FastLane, with practical ideas and action plans for groups and individuals.
  2. On, you can find the schools in your area that offer financial education and the ways you can start/reinforce local financial literacy programs.
  3. DonorsChoose offers lesson plans and activities for educators that have been created by teachers in the field, for teachers. There are also opportunities to find school programs in your own community that you can support.

At the end of the day, there is a growing global awareness that financial literacy is an essential life skill that means not only greater prosperity, but better choices, increased confidence, and the ability to more successfully handle real-life financial challenges. 

Financial literacy isn’t just about math. It is about attaining the knowledge and skills to confidently manage our everyday financial lives and the need for financial education, which is greater than ever locally, nationally, and globally


Parts of this blog were excerpted from an onlne post by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz,CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable

Ensuring Your Family’s Financial Future

In meeting with and advising our clients, one of their most important concerns is focused on ensuring their family’s future. Within that conversation often comes the question of the best way to leave money to their grandchildren. 

In many ways, leaving an IRA can be a good alternative. The money continues to grow tax-deferred and when the grandchildren do inherit it, they’ll have options about when and how to withdraw the money. However, it’s not quite as simple as just naming them as the beneficiaries.

  • First, the distribution rules can be complicated and each beneficiary may have different needs on when it would be best to distribute the assets most effectively.
  • Second there is the consideration of what happens should grandchildren inherit the money while minors.
  • Third, it’s important to consider how the distributions will be taxed. Below are some points to keep in mind ere are some things to address in advance.


The age of majority generally ranges from 18 to 21, depending on the state of residence. So it would be wise to consider establishing a custodian, typically the minor’s legal guardian, for young grandchildren. The custodian would manage the money until the child reached his or her state’s recognized age of adulthood. At that time, the child would have complete access to the funds. 

If you don’t designate a custodian, the child’s parent would have to ask the Probate Court to assign a property guardian. To avoid this complication, it would be best to name a custodian (often a parent) as part of your beneficiary designation.


This requires a bit more expense and time (you will need to work with an estate planning attorney), but it will give you more control over how and when the money can be used. For instance, while you might be thinking the inheritance would be used for education or a down payment on a house, a young beneficiary might be more tempted to buy a fancy car. 

The choice of a trust depends on how much money you’re talking about and how concerned you are about your grandchildren handling their inheritance responsibly.


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Prior to the passage of the SECURE Act, which became effective as of January 1, 2020, most heirs were able to distribute Inherited IRA assets over the course of their lifetime—with the caveat that they had to take RMDs. However, under the new law, only certain types of beneficiaries have this option, and grandchildren are not one of them (unless they are disabled or chronically ill.)

Grandchildren generally fall under the category of ‘Designated Beneficiary,’ which means that they can distribute the assets however they like, without RMDs each year—as long as all assets are distributed within 10 years. 

In other words, your grandchildren can take some assets out each year or just leave all the assets in the account until the last day. However, any assets that are not distributed by the end of the 10th year will be subject to a 50% penalty.

How the assets are distributed within that time frame could have important tax considerations, so it’s best to consult with a financial advisor. Because of the SECURE Act rules, if you are married, in some cases it may make more sense to name your spouse as the designated beneficiary to take advantage of spreading the distribution over his or her lifetime and then they can name your grandchildren as beneficiaries.


Distributions from earnings and deductible contributions from a traditional IRA are considered ordinary income, so unless you’re passing on a Roth IRA that was established for at least 5 years or more prior to your passing, taxes will be due on distributions. 

If the Roth five-year holding period has not passed, the earnings are taxed at ordinary income rates. Your grandchildren will have to pay income taxes on distributions at their own tax rate or they can wait until the five years holding period has passed to receive tax-free distributions.


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1. It’s best that your grandchildren (or their custodians) understand that they will not be able to make additional contributions to an inherited IRA (however, if they have earned income, their parents can set up custodial IRAs for them). 

2.It is important for everyone to understand that your grandchildren would not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, regardless of their age when they take a distribution. 

3.The inheritance may have an impact on student financial aid considerations for your grandchildren. Consider all of these issues into your overall plan.

Naming a grandchild as an IRA beneficiary can be a tax-smart way to pass on money—both for you and for your grandkids. You just want to make sure that you set it up to everyone’s best advantage now, so it can truly be an advantage to the kids later on. 

Want to know more? Give us a call at 716-256-1682, or email and let’s make an appointment to help you ensure your family’s future.

This article was excerpted from an online post written by Carrie Schawb Pomerantz, CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable.

Good Business Fundamentals in any Economy

Over the last three months at Note, we have been engaged in virtual meetings with clients, working on ways to sustain their businesses in these trying, pandemic times. 

Although a crystal ball might seem like the most needed tool in our advisor’s arsenal right now, here are some “good business” fundamentals we regularly share with clients that are important in any economy.

  • Hire the Best CPA, Attorney and Financial Advisor you can afford. Anything less can often become a big expense. Along the same lines, free advice often proves to be the most expensive.
  • Accumulate cash for opportunities and challenges. Keep in mind that other’s challenges may become your business opportunity.
  • Define the Core Values of your business and communicate them to all involved. Make sure to deliver customer service that clearly supports those values
  • Examine how to WOW your customer in a way that Amazon-at-your-door cannot.
  • Invest in the best employees you can attract.
  • Empower your employees to make decisions. Give them a budget for fixing mistakes and providing the highest level of service in their customer interactions.
  • Ask someone brutally honest and unfamiliar with your business or services to act as a customer and then grade their experience.

If you have questions or concerns about your business or need to discuss COVID-19 financial issues, we are here to help. Please contact Sarah Neuner at or (716) 256-1682 to make an appointment to meet in our office, via phone or virtually, online. 

Retirement: Lifetime Payments or Lump Sum?

According to the U.S. Labor Department, in 1975 there were more than 103,000 employee pension plans in place as retirement income for Americans. By 2017, that number had dropped to about 46,700. Further, the number of private pension plans — which employers fund on behalf of workers — has also dwindled as companies have shifted the burden of retirement savings to their employees through 401(k) plans or other defined-contribution plans. 

As a result of those changing realities, retiring workers now face their retirement decisions of lump sum or lifetime pension payments with concerns over whether their employers will be willing and/or able to meet the long-term commitments of their plans.

Most retirees like the idea of guaranteed income for the rest of their lives, which makes choosing continuing payments more appealing. However, today’s financial reality is that the stability of pension payments depend on the solvency of the sponsor. And while the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) would step in if a company could not meet its obligations, it may pay only a certain portion of an employee’s promised benefits. 


The PBGC’s multi-employer insurance program currently coversthe pensions of 10.8 million Americans. The corporation also pays monthly retirement benefits, up to legal limits, to about one million retirees whose plans ended or failed. Concerningly, the agency’s most recent annual report shows that it is currently stretched to its limits, with forecasts of insolvency by the fiscal year 2025. 

So what is the best choice to make? Below are some facts that may help in your decision-making process.

  • For those eyeing a lump sum due to fear of their employer going under or otherwise struggling to meet their pension obligations, it’s important to be aware of the fact that the lump sum amount offered is generally lower in comparison to the amount promised over time. That being said, because interest rates have generally remained low, recent lump sum offers have been bigger than if rates were high. . 
  • In choosing to remain in the pension plan instead over a lump sum, the amount received may be fixed-for-life as pensions typically don’t have a cost-of-living adjustment.
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  • Although some pensions offer spousal benefits (i.e., upon death, the husband or wife continues to receive a portion of the lifetime payments) there is nothing left for heirs. In contrast, in taking a lump sum, upon death there may be money that could be left to non-spousal heirs. 
  • Choosing a lump sum and not rolling it into an individual retirement account or other qualified option will result in taxes on the distribution. Alternatively rolling the money to an IRA, will require decisions on the best ways to invest the assets to meet retirement income needs
  • An alternative option is to purchase an annuity, which would provide guaranteed income for either a set number of years or for the remainder of the investor’s life, depending on the type. However, it’s significant to keep in mind that to help meet those payout obligations, insurance companies invest in stocks, which means your investment is one step removed from market investments. Additionally, there is always the risk of the insurance company going belly up. 

At the end of the day, any decision on retirement should be made in the context of the retiree’s financial plan and the long-term viability of all the companies involved.

Financial Planning Lessons

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, the lives of Americans were quickly turned upside down. Now, three months later, many have suffered personal financial disasters due to the loss of jobs and paychecks.

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There are a number of financial lessons to learn from this pandemic, chief among them the value of planning and having emergency funds. Without such funds, you can be forced to tap other accounts, take out a loan, or face more dire and damaging financial options.

So what should you do if you do not have an emergency fund set aside to cover your expenses for a few months?

1) To begin, start one as soon as you can. Divert money into the account whenever possible. If you do already have an emergency account, continue to add to it.

2) Review expenses related to your job. Consider the money you spend on transportation costs, clothing, dry cleaning, entertainment, meals and those daily coffee runs. Where you can cut costs, take that money and put it in a place where it can grow.

3) If you are worried about losing your job, or if you already experienced a pay cut, find ways to reduce your overall spending by 20% or more. Separating essentials from non-essentials is a good way to eliminate things you do not need.

4) Do not overlook the importance of estate planning and investing in your retirement. Continue to contribute to your 401K, and if you have to borrow from it, do not drain it.

5) If the events of the last three months have encouraged you to think about drawing up a will, now is the time. Also, update any estate planning that needs to be done, as well as end of life directives. 

All of the above are integral parts of proper financial planning which, as COVID-19 has reminded us, are important lessons to learn and follow.

Easy Ways to Safeguard You and Your Money

Have you ever noticed an unauthorized withdrawal from your bank, brokerage, or credit card account? Such suspicious activity can mean only one thing: Your finances have been invaded.

If this has happened to you, know you are not alone. According to a November, 2019 Nilson Report, “Credit card fraud losses in 2018 reached $27.85 billion.

The good news is that if you find yourself the target of financial fraud, there are steps you can take to limit losses and help prevent unauthorized activity from happening again.

1. Act fast

  • It’s in everyone’s interest to identify suspicious activity as soon as it surfaces. Your financial institution can freeze the compromised account, issue a new card, reset a password, and perhaps even help track down those responsible. Be sure to initiate contact through a known number or website; never respond to an unsolicited email, phone call, or text—no matter how legitimate it may seem.
  • Financial institutions generally have security policies that outline how they handle fraud—including your liability, if any, in the event of unauthorized activity.
  • Viruses and malware are commonly tied to fraud schemes. Indeed, if a virus is left unchecked it can capture your new username and password, even if it was changed after the initial breach.

2. Go wide

  • Whenever you spot fraud in one account, change the credentials on any other accounts with the same usernames and/or passwords. Better yet, assign a unique password to each financial account, as well as every site where you store bank account or credit card information.
  • Of course, it can be difficult to keep all those passwords straight. Password managers, such as Dashlane and LastPass, can generate a unique password for every account, keep track of them all, and even securely auto-populate username and password fields.

3. Stay Alert

  • In addition to fraud alerts, many credit card issuers can notify you when they process online or over-the-phone transactions that don’t require a physical card. In 2018, such transactions accounted for 54% of all fraudulent activity worldwide involving credit, debit, and prepaid cards. Bank and brokerage accounts also offer alerts and notifications for certain types of transactions.
  • Regularly review your statements and credit report to ensure no fraudulent activity flies under the radar. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) is required to provide one free credit report annually, so consider requesting a report from one of the agencies every four months.
  • Placing a security freeze with Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax can prevent others from opening a new credit card or loan in your name. Better yet, place a freeze with all three agencies to ensure maximum protection. If you need to apply for credit in the future, you can temporarily lift the freeze using a password or PIN.

4. Double up

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  • Activate two-factor authentication: This safeguard, now standard among financial firms, issues a single-use code via email or text that you need to enter along with your username and password to gain access to your account.
  • Enable biometric recognition: Biometrics let you unlock a device or log in to an account with your face, fingerprint, or voice. Unlike passwords, biometrics can’t be written down (or lost) and are much harder for criminals to replicate.

Go the extra mile

In addition to the above four steps, consider reporting your experience to TheFederal Trade Commission. The agency’s reporting process isn’t designed to resolve individual incidents or recover funds, but your report helps them track trends in fraud and better understand the methods criminals are using, which may help financial firms improve their defenses.

It’s also a good idea to file an Identity Theft Report at This entitles you to extra protections, such as placing an extended fraud alert on your credit report and preventing companies from collecting debts that result from identity theft.

Summer Jobs and Tax Returns

If your child picks up a summer job, they may or may not be required to file a federal tax return and/or pay federal taxes. It all depends on the type of job and how much they earn. The charts below provide some simple guidelines.

These tables are for general informational purposes only. They address only federal filing requirements for earned income. Other federal filing requirements may apply; see  IRS Publication 929  for more details.

Even if your child is not required to file a federal tax return, it’s wise to consult with your financial planner or tax advisor, as he or she may be due a tax refund. And be sure to include your child in that consultation and any filling that may result. It’s never too early to start young wage earners on the road to financial literarcy—-teaching them the significance of taxes and and the ramifications of not managing them correctly.

This blog was excerpted from a Charles Schwab Personal Finance and Planning online post.

Local Help for Local Businesses

According to the NYS Department of Labor, more than 1.6 million residents have filed for unemployment benefits since Gov Cuomo’s mid-March COVID-19 order for all non-essential retailers and businesses to close.

This reality has forced business owners to make tough decisions about a broad range of issues including employee and customer safety, changes in supply chains and remote technology capabilities—all the while working to keep their businesses operational and afloat.

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While there is no self-help manual to guide business entrepreneurs through this crisis, a number of Western New Yorkers are turning to The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership(CEL), part of the University at Buffalo School of Management, for support.

For more than 30 years, CEL has provided individualized and interactive education in entrepreneurship through a variety of programs aimed at unlocking leadership potential, creating jobs and invigorating the greater Western New York economy and community.

That longterm purpose led CEL to immediately begin creating virtual programs and support for their entrepreneurs in less than 48 hours following the Governor’s business shut down order. Programming includes weekly Zoom meetings and one-on-one consulting sessions on financials and other COVID-related challenges. As well there are weekly webinars pn a variety of topics such as human resources, operations and overall business strategies.

Note Advisors Principal, Shawn Glogowski, is a graduate of the CEL Program. He notes the immediate response and support offered by the organization as crucial during this pandemic.

“It’s good to see CEL react with such immediacy in helping the Buffalo business community stay the course and meet the many challenges we are all facing. The vital information on programs and next step actions they are providing definitely help to build confidence among business owners in that the decisions they are making in these uncertain times will help them survive and eventually reopen.”

Established in 1987, the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in the University at Buffalo School of Management provides participants with individualized and interactive education in entrepreneurship. More than 1,400 CEL alumni employ more than 23,000 Western New Yorkers, and their businesses are worth more than $2.3 billion to the local economy.

For more information on the variety of programs offered through the CEL, how these programs are providing support for local small to medium-sized businesses and how you can apply for a specific program, visit

Some information in this post was excerpted from an online Business First article written by Tom Ulbrich, an executive in residence for entrepreneurship at the University at Buffalo School of Management, and president/CEO of Goodwill of WNY.

Help Your Finances and Soothe Your Mind

With May designated as Mental Health Month, it seems timely to focus on the important part finances play in our sense of well-being.

Below is information related to understanding the ways money management skills can affect people’s happiness, along with practical steps to stay financially and emotionally healthy.


Do you ever feel overwhelmed by money worries? You’re not the only one. 

According to a 2019 survey by, seven in ten Americans admit that they’ve cried over something related to their finances. Additionally, age and gender aside, many acknowledge money as an emotional trigger.

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In a 2018 Harris Poll, it was revealed that money was a major source of stress for 44% of respondents. Specific financial stress inducers included low income, the rising cost of healthcare, too much debt and a lack of retirement savings.

These findings are troubling not only because of the significant percentage of Americans who are struggling with money concerns, but because of how those concerns can impact our lives.


A number of studies show that financial insecurity leads to a host of other problems from general stress and anxiety to poor physical health and reduced job performance.

Within the medical industry, worries about the cost of healthcare are being defined as, “financial toxicity,” as patients struggle to pay for health and hospital care and prescriptions. Worry about large medical bills and related debt have been proven to cause illness and even increase the amount of pain people feel.

When financial stress hits close to home, it can cause relationship problems among spouses, parents, children and even friends. Additionally children raised in poverty have been shown to suffer from far-reaching physical and mental health issues.

While these are concerning statistics, a 2015 Gallup poll regarding the link between relationship problems and financial well-being offered hope. According to those who participated, the solution to reducing stress and increasing financial security wasn’t as much about the amount of money individuals possessed, but more about how well they managed their money. The good news is that managing money is something everyone can control.


Worry is caused by uncertainty. While you can’t know what lies ahead, you can take steps to get a better handle on the present and more fully prepare yourself for the future. The following basic money management tips can help

Know where your money is going

  • Write down your monthly expenses. How much are you spending on essentials like housing, food and transportation? How much are you spending on extras? Make adjustments so that you don’t spend more than you earn.
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Get a handle on debt

  • If you’re carrying credit card balances, create a payment plan that is realistic and that you can manage. Try to pay more on higher interest debt first, making sure to pay at least the minimum on all debts, including student loans.

Plan for emergencies

  • Aim to put aside enough cash to cover 3-6 months of essential expenses in a savings or money market account. Starting from scratch? Aim for whatever regular amount you can afford and work your way up from there. Acknowledge there may be months when your ability to reach that aim will fall short, but don’t give up. Next month get right back on your savings track.

Boost your savings

  • Make savings a part of your monthly budget. Even a small amount saved on a regular basis can make a big difference.

Contribute to your 401(k)

  • Contribute at least enough to get the company match, more if you can.

Take advantage of workplace financial wellness programs

  • See what your company offers in terms of retirement planning, healthcare, and financial education and planning.


There’s one more Gallup poll that offers particularly positive results. It found that among Americans worried about paying bills, 63% said they enjoyed saving more than spending.

Saving as much as you can, controlling your expenses, and feeling like you’re in control can reduce your financial stress and help you maintain a positive attitude no matter what life throws your way.

This blog was excerpted from an online article by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable