COLUMBUS, Ohio -- More than half of Americans don't have an emergency fund. Only 37 percent have tried to figure out their retirement savings needs. More than 40 percent believe they have too much debt.
While these findings from the 2012 National Financial Capability Study aren't surprising to Betsy DeMatteo, they are trends she would like to see reversed.
That's why DeMatteo, an Ohio State University Extension educator in family and consumer sciences, is coordinating the effort behind Ohio Saves, a statewide campaign to encourage people to save money, pay down debt and build wealth. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
The Ohio Saves program is free. Anyone can sign up by going to http://ohiosaves.org and clicking on "enroll in Ohio Saves today."
"All you need is your savings goal and an email address," DeMatteo said.
Ohio Saves is part of America Saves, a national nonprofit organization headed by the Consumer Federation of America. To date, 347,600 people have signed up with America Saves, pledging to save a specific amount of money for a certain period of time to reach a specific savings goal.
"Research shows that if you make your savings goal specific, if you give it a deadline, and if you write it down, then you're much more likely to achieve it," she said. "So, just the fact that you're signing up to be an Ohio Saver will help you achieve your goal."
DeMatteo wants every Ohioan to know that they can start saving, no matter how low their income nor how high their debt.
"Start wherever you are,” she said. “If you're really hard-pressed, you can start saving by putting your change in a jar.
“You'd be amazed at how fast that adds up. If you save just a handful of change each day, you'll have a good start toward an emergency fund by the end of the year."
Beyond that, it always helps to make a savings deposit first, before paying bills, DeMatteo said.
"Whatever you think you can save, put that aside first,” she said. “If you wait until the end of your pay period, it will definitely be spent.
"Even if you have to tap into your savings in between paychecks, if you deposit it first, you're more likely to save more money no matter how much it is."
Participants in the program have access to free resources that will encourage them to save money and reduce debt.
"Savers receive a monthly email newsletter with savings strategies from national experts," DeMatteo said. "They also have access to online tracker tools and all sorts of encouragement and motivation. It's all about an individual saver making their own savings goal and being encouraged and motivated toward that goal."
Ohio Saves joins local campaigns already established in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Hancock County.
"Our hope is that Ohio Saves will pick up everyone else around the state," she said.
DeMatteo is hoping to attract 2,500 Ohio Savers by March 1, which is the end of the 2014 Ohio Saves and America Saves Week.
Ohio Saves is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ohiosaves and on Twitter at @MoneyMattersOH.