Beverly Peltier and her husband, Mark, are saving for their son's future a nickel and a dime at a time.
Any spare change they get goes into a jar that one day will finance David's college costs. Peltier said she also completes paid surveys online and puts the proceeds into David's college fund.
The goal, she said, is to help him pay for higher education and ensure that she and Mark are debt-free by retirement.
"I think we do one thing that Americans don't really focus on, which is living within our means," said Peltier, the director of institutional advancement at Augusta Technical College.
She added that the couple still lives in the same house off Walton Way that they bought 18 years ago when they married, never moving to a larger house.
"If one of us were to lose a job, we know we could still get by on one income," she said. "Everyone always thinks bigger, better, shinier, but I think, 'Do you really need that much extra of everything?' "
Since the Great Recession took hold in late 2007, people such as the Peltiers have been pocketing savings and working to shore up their financial futures.
In July, personal savings made up 5.9 percent of disposable income, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Personal savings had dropped to as low as 1.7 percent of disposable income in August 2007, before the housing and financial markets began their falls.
On-time credit card payments also have been increasing in recent months, though charge-off rates from credit card companies are still much higher than before the financial downturn.
"I think the mindset has changed with a lot of people, and they want to have cash reserves even if they feel their job is secure," said Dan Blanton, the president and CEO of Georgia Bank & Trust. "There is a lot more reluctance to use credit cards to finance frivolous purchases."
A nation of savers?
It's not unusual for people to buckle down and save more money when times are tough, said Simon Medcalfe, a finance professor at Augusta State University.
"The last several recessions, the savings rate has increased because people are worried about their jobs and they're trying to build up that buffer," he said.
Despite the savings increase, the rate was higher during recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, landing around 10 percent, Medcalfe said.
Blanton said he doesn't necessarily see more people opening savings accounts, but he has noticed people with savings accounts beefing up their balances.
Most savings and money market accounts have an annual yield of less than 2 percent because of high demand for safe investments in the downturn, but banks are trying to entice customers using other means.
For example, Georgia Bank & Trust is offering 4.01 percent annual percentage yield on balances of up to $25,000.
"If you don't save enough for your retirement or long-term goals, you're not going to be able to enjoy your retirement or achieve your long-term goals," Medcalfe said.
Forming a plan
During the economic downturn, more people have been seeking financial advice about their savings and retirement, said Jeff Fehrman, the president and owner of Fehrman Investment Group, an independent firm in Augusta.
"Having a plan of action significantly increases your chances of success, in my opinion," said Fehrman, who advises the Peltiers.
Putting aside 10 percent of annual income is a good place for people to start, several financial planners said.
Will Rogers, an Ameriprise financial planner in Evans, said that although he is cautious about applying any rule of thumb too widely, people should try to build a nest egg of 10 percent for short-term financial goals such as paying for a vacation or property taxes. Another 10 percent is useful for long-term goals such as buying a home, he said.
Savings become particularly important when a person has an unstable job, Rogers added.
"The more unpredictable your income is, the more you need to save to account for unpredictable times," he said.
When a household starts to tackle debt, credit cards should be paid off first, Fehrman said. Credit cards often have high interest rates that aren't tax-deductible like a student loan, he said.
One problem some people run into with debt is that even as they pay it off, they acquire new debt, Rogers said.
"A lot of times, folks will say, 'I will pay off this debt and then I will start saving,' " he said. "But if they look at their past behavior, they will pay off the debt and replace it with new debt."