The prospect of setting money aside is worse than a Halloween nightmare for people who already are living paycheck to paycheck.
However, the Oregon Individual Development Account (IDA) Initiative helps those who are saving for a purpose -- from small business needs to a home or an education -- with a combination of financial counseling and goals.
A new evaluation of the program found almost 4,000 Oregonians with limited income and net worth opened IDA accounts from 2008 through 2011.
Researcher Diane Yatchmenoff, associate director of the Regional Research Institute at Portland State University, says most mention two critical factors in their financial makeovers.
"Being made to use a budget, kind of being forced to figure out how to use a budget; getting in the habit of savings and realizing that classic phrase, they can 'pay themselves first,' she said. "But the other thing they talk about is the support and encouragement they got from the IDA program providers."
If people meet their financial goals during the time they're in the program, the amount is matched, up to 3-to-1. About 65 percent of them manage to do that.
Photographer Forest James signed up for the IDA Initiative in Bend to save money to expand his business and buy new equipment. He says by working with a financial counselor, he soon found out that he didn't need all those energy drinks.
"That represented much more than just cutting back on energy drinks, of course. It represented monitoring what I'm actually spending, and had me take a closer look at everything I was spending on," James said. "So I was able to cut back a decent amount -- just showing me that you don't have to make a lot of money to actually start saving."
Over time, James and his wife turned monthly savings of $166 into almost $10,000. The evaluation report says about 55 percent of participants still are budgeting and saving a year after completing the program.
Yatchmenoff says the other part of the survey that is harder to quantify than the dollar amounts -- but just as important -- is what having savings does for the IDA participants.
"A sort of increase in self-esteem, and sense of confidence and competence that they acquire," she said. "We see this over and over again in the kinds of quotes that people send in with their surveys, and when we talk to people. It's a very empowering experience for folks."
There's a network of IDA Initiative providers across the state. Find them online at OregonIDAinitiative.org.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this story.