Financial decisions always seem simple in the rational abstract analysis of the numbers; saving seems like it should be easy. But we’re not rational. We’re emotional creatures, and saving is that much easier when it doesn’t feel like homework or self-deprivation. Here is a little psychological sleight-of-hand you can use to get your subconscious onboard with your savings goals.
Make saving automatic. Automatic deposit is brilliant for automatically dedicating a percentage of your income to savings. There are a couple of easy ways to do this.
- Set 10% of your paycheck to head to savings automatically.
- Boost your savings even more by taking advantage of automatic contributions to an IRA or 401k; your employer may even match funds for this type of thing.
- Set an automatic amount to deposit from checking to savings each month.
- deposit your whole paycheck into savings, only transferring to checking for necessities like bills and significant purchases. That way, you’ll be more reluctant to sacrifice your savings to impulse purchases with your debit card.
Put a 24-hour waiting-period on purchases. This short-circuits impulse buying. After you’ve avoided a few impulse-buys this way, you’ll feel more in control of your finances and avoid budget-draining buyer’s remorse.
Harness the power of spare change. Aside from making a very attractive, glass-encased art-piece, collecting your change traps it in a physical form that’s harder for you to spend. This isn’t your pizza fund; it’s a sly way to boost your savings. Don’t just let it sit there, though. Invest in some coin rolls and dump that change into your savings account every few months so it can start earning interest.
Use a checkbook instead of a debit card. Sure, a lot of places don’t accept checks anymore, but writing personal checks forces you to keep track by hand where your money goes. It also forces you to think about your account balance, which helps you mentally budget and avoid costly overdraft fees. Also, if you have to write a check instead of swipe a card, you might think twice about a purchase.
Reward yourself for your discipline. When you resist the urge to make an impulse-buy, get yourself a treat (an iced coffee, a song download or movie tickets). Building this kind of reward into your routine rewards the irrational, impulsive parts of your brain with something positive for the difficult act of self-denial.
Turn a payment into a deposit. When you finish paying off your credit card balance, online bill payment on the car, or some other expense, keep sending that money into savings.
Institute some budgeting principles to live by. The sooner you establish a budget using proven principles, the sooner you can go about making them second nature when you make future financial decisions. These aren’t really mental tricks, but by establishing them as common sense, you’re less likely to develop bad financial habits.
- Pay yourself first. Get religious about saving. If your budget maxes out at your income level, it only takes a few unexpected expenses for the water to rise above your head. Plus, you’re paying your future retirement living expenses, hopefully maximizing your money’s power by investing in high-yield savings and other investments.
- Track your money. You can’t fix your money problems if you don’t know where the money’s going. Save receipts, use financial tracking tools, jot spending down in a pocket notepad — just find out exactly what you’re spending and where. Then you can map out fixed expenses and minimize budget areas that have gotten out of control.
- Attack high-interest first. Interest is bleeding away your personal wealth, and you have to stop the biggest wounds first. If have debt at equal or similar rates, eliminate the small balances first.
- Don’t spend what you don’t have. There are very few instances when it’s wise to take on debt. Houses are one. Cars should be bought with cash whenever possible. If you find yourself dipping into credit cards and other short-term debt to pay day-to-day expenses, you’re really in trouble. If that happens, you’ve failed to budget properly.
- Be wary of credit cards. Not only are interest rates out of control, but carrying high balances on your revolving lines of credit is murder for your credit score. At the same time, long-standing credit cards with low balances can improve your score. Keeping your balance below 10% on any credit cards you have is ideal. Failing that, keep it under 30%. And don’t carry more than three credit cards (including department store charge cards) at a time.