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At the national level, general strategies, messages, and materials should be developed; national spokespersons should be recruited; media coverage through news, public service announcements, and possible paid ads should be generated; and efforts in local areas should be coordinated and evaluated. While these countrywide activities raise awareness, they rarely in themselves produce behavioral change.

Typically, the most effective work takes place at the local level. Most importantly, programs need to be developed that touch people individually at work, in public places, in schools, in neighborhoods, and in the home. Seventh, public policy can provide critical support for changes in behavior. State and local safety belt use requirements were instrumental in persuading tens of millions of drivers to buckle up. Tougher drunk driving laws and stricter enforcement of these regulations played important roles in reducing drunk driving.

Laws restricting smoking in public places may represent the most effective communication of societal disapproval of this smoking. These types of public policy do much more than seek to inform or persuade; they actually mandate behavior. Eighth, each campaign is unique, reflecting differences in type of goal, target population, available resources, and other factors. That is especially true of campaigns to change financial behavior because the large majority of social marketing campaigns have sought to influence health and safety-related behaviors.

Thus, developing a campaign to increase household saving cannot assume that successful campaigns to reduce smoking or drug use offer reliable guideposts. The fact that most social marketing campaigns have been directed at improving health and safety or reducing related threats needs comment.

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Take the most ambitious U. Anti-smoking efforts were motivated primarily, not by a desire to reduce economic costs, but by the desire to prolong life. In fact, by shortening life and reducing societal resources that are spent during retirement years, smoking may actually reduce these expenses. One may be tempted to assume that it is far easier to change behavior affecting health and safety than that affecting finances.

Such a conclusion, however, is dubious. Anti-smoking advocates faced two huge obstacles. The first was resistance from smokers who were physically gratified by and often addicted to smoking. The second was ferocious opposition by the tobacco industry. Because of smoker denial and industry obfuscation of scientific research, it was difficult for advocates to convince heavy smokers that they were taking about ten years off their lives. Even many smokers who understood this harsh reality found it impossible to quit or decided to trade off these years for the pleasures of smoking.

Advocates of increased saving, even among lower income groups, do not confront such substantial barriers. While debt-financed consumption is pleasurable, it does not appear to be physically addictive. In addition, there is no well-organized opposition to asset development. Although increased saving would certainly reduce the income of credit card lenders and probably depress retail sales somewhat, it is extremely unlikely that these businesses would make concerted efforts to oppose asset development.

In fact, the leading credit card lenders -- a few big banks -- have somewhat conflicting goals since they sell savings and investment products as well as loans. And some types of credit, mainly first mortgage loans, can be used to build wealth. One of the most visible savings initiatives of the past several years was initiated and funded by NationsBank, which collaborated with the Consumer Federation of America on joint research, public education, and community outreach.

Apart from lenders, most financial services companies, especially investment firms, would benefit greatly from increased household saving.

It is true that, for most people, building wealth is not as important as preserving health and safety. But many can be convinced that asset development should be a high priority in their lives, and not just because of related economic benefits.

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Wealth building can also confer psychological benefits. Individuals who accumulate assets can achieve some of the same satisfactions as do business persons who accumulate capital. Most upper and upper middle income households have already experienced some of these economic and psychological benefits. Our challenge is to help confer these benefits on lower income households as well. That will only occur widely, it appears, if the dominant American culture places a higher value on wealth building.


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The following discussion loosely weaves together ideas for promoting more effective asset development, especially among lower income groups. It includes suggestions for message development and delivery, grassroots community outreach, policy advocacy, and coalition-building.

The Distribution of Household Income, Consumption and Savings, an OECD study

It is important to ground these strategies as much as is feasible in research. Messages and their packaging should be tested on focus groups. Community outreach in specific communications should be reviewed by community leaders and educators. And the effects of all efforts on savings behaviors should be examined and traced.

This assessment should be used as the basis for a periodic review of the effectiveness of general and specific strategies. Message Development: Messages must convince households both that they need to save and that they are capable of doing so. That addresses two of three key decision-making factors.

The third, societal expectation, is mainly influenced by the percentage of households who value and succeed at saving. A mix of negative and positive messages may be most effective. The key negative messages are that the large majority of American households have not saved enough to meet their projected financial needsand that a significant minority have saved practically nothing at all, with potentially disastrous consequences.

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These consequences should be spelled out, expressed in personal terms, and repeated frequently. One effective way to disseminate these negative messages is to release to the press a series of reports on societal savings inadequacy and its personal costs. One set of reports could discuss the best data available about asset accumulation. In the past couple of years, financial services companies have released a number of studies of household savings. The findings of these reports do not always agree largely because most are based on surveys utilizing relatively brief interviews with subjects.

As a result, while useful, these studies are not considered nearly as authoritative as those based on Census or Fed data. A second set of reports could profile households who suffered as a result of inadequate savings. It would be particularly effective to compare two sets of similar households who differ in only one respect -- one set saves adequately while the other set does not. Demonstrating that the non-savers are far more likely to experience financial crises, spend far more on high-priced credit, lack the ability to make "capital expenditures" i.

The key positive message should emphasize that, if all assets including home equity accumulation are counted, nearly all households can save relatively large amounts. Are they realistic? Five should receive emphasis: Pay off high-cost consumer loans. Other types of credit, such as payday loans, can carry rates of several hundred percent.

Paying off these loans is the best investment you can make.


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It makes no sense to save at 5 percent, or even 8 percent, if you are paying off loans of 15 percent and up. Buy a home and pay off the mortgage before retiring. For the middle class, the most important form of private saving is home equity build-up. Once the mortgage is paid off, housing costs drop considerably. Before that, home equity can be used as collateral for reasonably-priced consumer loans. Take full advantage of any employer-related retirement program. Employers contribute to most of these programs, making them the most lucrative "investment" available to most people.

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But to take full advantage of this employer contribution, many employees must make a contribution first. Unfortunately, an estimated one-quarter to one-third of employees fail to take full advantage of this employer subsidy. Contribute regularly to an IRA. This strategy is particularly important for those without access to a employer retirement program. Maintain liquid savings for emergencies. Given the low yields of traditional savings accounts, money market funds and short-term certificates-of-deposit CDs are currently the most attractive accounts. Early withdrawal penalties on a CD rarely lower the yield below that of a savings account.

Most importantly, do not keep savings in a checking account, which pays no or low interest and is too easy to access for current consumption. Other strategies do not appear to be as helpful. The amount and timing of inheritances are often not predictable, especially when one is young. Cash-value life insurance provides reasonable yields only to purchasers who hold policies for at least 15 years, and most do not. Risky investment products provide returns that cannot be relied on for needed income.

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There is also a general message that needs continuing emphasis -- wealth is as important as income to one's economic well-being. As noted earlier, most Americans consider income to be much more important. If they perceived wealth to be of equal importance, they would try harder to accumulate it. Message Delivery This delivery is a two-stage process. Messages must first be packaged then communicated. Packaging could include the following: Basic pamphlet stressing positive messages but also including negative ones.

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This document also should explain precisely how one can develop and carry out a wealth building plan. Such a poster might be attractive to a a variety of community agencies, but it would probably be most helpful in the schools. The backside of the publication could explain various ways that saving could be taught to different levels of students. Posted in tens of thousands of classrooms, this document might have the impact of the four food groups poster to which many were exposed in the s and s.