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By Teri Geske

What could you do with $3.33?

According to a 2016 survey by GOBankingRates, the vast majority of Americans have little or no savings. Are you in that situation? Or are you a parent with young adult children who are just embarking on their independent financial lives? If so, please read on.

Some people think they cannot save because they need all of their income to pay the rent, buy food and cover other necessities. While that may be true for some non-savers, most could set aside a little bit each month. But they assume it wouldn't be enough to amount to anything and therefore isn't worth the trouble. So, they ignore the problem, run up some credit card debt to buy things they want right now and hope in vain that things will somehow work out someday. "Hope" is not a good strategy.

Developing a habit of saving and investing even a little bit of money regularly over a long period of time really can make big a difference in your financial life. There are a number of apps out there to help you with this, such as Mvelopes and Unsplurge, to name just two. But you don't need an app to see why saving even small amounts is a much better idea than spending everything you've got, or worse, using credit card debt to buy more than you can afford, even though you really want that extra pair of shoes or that night on the town.

Imagine there are two friends in their mid-20s: Sarah Saver and Sam Spender. Both earn the same income and pay the same amount for their rent, utilities, cell phones and transportation. One day, a mysterious stranger approaches them and says, "I'm going to give both of you $100 every month for the next five years. You can do whatever you want with the money. At the end of Year Five we will have a little chat." As you might imagine, they both accept the offer.

Sarah invests the monthly $100 payments in a fairly conservative blend of stocks and bonds. She earns a 5 percent return on the money. Sam decides to spend the $100 per month on various things he enjoys. In fact, he decides that since $100 month is really just about $3.33 a day, there's no real harm in buying a coffee every morning, using his credit card. After all, what's the harm in spending a measly $3.33?

Five years pass. The mysterious stranger reappears and asks Sarah and Sam to describe how they used the money – a total of $6,000 each. Sarah reports that she now has over $7,800 in her investment account. Sam admits he spent it all and more: he has paid over $1,100 in interest charges and now owes almost $2,300 on his credit card.

It is unlikely that a stranger will give you $100 every month for the next five years. The point is, I'll bet you can come up with your own $100 every month, by yourself. You can be your own mysterious stranger. Remember, it's just $3.33 per day. That's easy. Instead of ordering a soda or iced tea with lunch or dinner, drink water. Skip the fancy mocha/latte on the way to work. Go pick up your take-out dinner instead of having it delivered – no delivery charge!

Make it a contest to see how you can cut back on your regular expenses by just $3.33 a day. Invest the $100 you'll save every month, like Sarah did, instead of spending everything and running up credit card debt like Sam. If you invest just $100 every month from your mid-20s until retirement at age 65, you can end up with about $83,500. And you don't need a mysterious stranger. If you want it, you have the power to turn $3.33/day into real money over time.

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