Saving money sounds simple. You set aside a portion of what you earn on a regular basis and watch your money grow. As a result, you’re more prepared for emergencies, feel more financially stable, and are better able to achieve what you most want.
But in reality, saving is a little more complicated. Sometimes, our own minds work against us when it comes to setting aside some of the money we earn. A basic understanding of the psychology of saving can help you overcome roadblocks and achieve your goals.
Why It’s Hard to Save
What is one of the biggest obstacles most people face when saving? We tend to prefer the certainty and immediate gratification of short-term rewards over the potentially greater — yet perhaps more uncertain — benefits of longer-term rewards. One study found that most adults would prefer to have $50 today rather than $100 two years from now, for example.
Part of the difficulty with saving for long-term goals is that people may tend to think of their future selves as different or separate from their current selves. That disconnect can make it hard to prioritize saving for the future.
Researchers studying this issue looked at whether encouraging people to think of saving for retirement in terms of a social responsibility to their future self, rather than in terms of their basic self-interest, would lead them to save more. The study found that the former appeal led to higher savings rates. In a related vein, another group of researchers found that seeing pictures of their future selves encouraged people to save more.
In fact, there are a number of studies that suggest changing our mentality might allow us to set aside more money.
A recent study found that people who adopted a cyclical mindset to saving, where they focused on making saving routine in the short term, saved more than people who set more ambitious longer-term goals. Those with a traditional linear mindset saved about $140 over two weeks, while those with a cyclical mindset saved $223 over the same time period. Overall, the evidence seems to suggest that if we can change the way we think about the future — and our future selves — we may be able to boost our savings rates.
The Psychological Advantage of Saving
Once you commit to savings, there’s a good chance you’ll see a psychological boost from doing so. In 2013, a survey by Ally Bank found that 38% of people with a savings account reported being extremely happy, compared to only 29% of people who didn’t have a savings account.
That same survey found that 82% of people reported saving made them feel independent. Those feelings of success, well-being, and independence may in turn lead to even more saving. In fact, feeling powerful and having high self-esteem can lead people to save more, perhaps because increasing their net worth and financial stability helps people maintain their powerful feelings.
There might even be a formula for spending and saving that could lead to more happiness. Ryan Howell, a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that happy people tended to demonstrate a particular pattern of spending and saving, earmarking 25% of their money for savings and investments, allocating 12% to charitable giving or gifts to others, and spending about 40% on life experiences they considered meaningful.
While our mental quirks might make saving difficult, being aware of the obstacles our mind creates can help us conquer them. And that, in turn, may lead to greater savings and increased happiness overall.
Copyright © 2020 This article is published in its original form from its original publication with Investment Answers and Integrated Concepts, a separate, non-affiliated business entity. The original newsletter publication, Investment Answers Financial Success Winter 2020, is intended to offer factual and up-to-date information on the subjects discussed but should not be regarded as a complete, evolving, or personalized analysis of the topics, and should not be construed as personalized investment advice. Qualified financial professionals should be consulted before implementing a personalized financial plan. Please reference the original publication for additional disclaimers.