Subscribe to Money & Life

Grow your wealth

Psych yourself into saving

12 November 2017

Young woman at desk preparing to write

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or living comfortably, saving money can be something you’ll be finding hard to do. In her new book “Mind Over Money: The Psychology of Money and How To Use it Better” BBC broadcaster and psychologist Claudia Hammond shares insights into how we can change our ways when it comes to budgeting, spending and saving more for a rainy day.

Why should we save?

If saving isn’t something you’re in the habit of doing, or you’re not good at it, you might ask what the point of saving money really is. Is it just another of those rules that spoil your fun and get in the way of a welcome dose of retail therapy or a take-away when you’re too tired to cook? According to Claudia, saving really is the bedrock of financial wellbeing and a habit worth learning. “For most people who become prosperous – and more to the point, stay that way – do owe part of that prosperity to careful financial management,” she writes. “Indeed there is probably no area in which asserting mind over money is more critical. Yet many of us find saving very difficult.”

What stands in the way of saving

So why do we find it hard to knuckle down and save? It’s often a case of putting it off until later, when we expect to have fewer financial commitments and more income. As Claudia writes, “Yes, we will start saving, we tell ourselves, but not yet. We tend to believe that although we’ve not been good at saving up to now, we’ll be better in the future. Surely in the future we’ll earn more, spend less and save more?”

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this idea of starting to save when we get a pay rise or land that senior role is harder than it seems in the here and now. “Unfortunately experiments show that we consistently underestimate how much we spent last week as well as underestimating how much we’ll spend next week,” writes Claudia. So if you’re relying on your future, better self to do the saving for you, don’t be so confident in your capacity to change. “Advice I’d give if you find saving difficult is to learn to appreciate that you’re likely to behave in a similar way from one year to the next,” Claudia write. “Be realistic about your ability to do better in the future. 

Have a target

So you’re ready to turn over a new leaf and become the superhero of saving. What can you do to get in touch with the real saver in you, the one who can resist the temptation to spend, make regular deposits into a savings account and leave them there? Having a target in mind and broadcasting it to the world can be an important motivator in keeping you on track. “Having a clear target is one of the best ways of motivating us to save,” writes Claudia “It’s the reason why churches put up giant thermometers on their gates. The congregation can share in a collective sense of achievement as the red line rises towards the amount of money needed to restore the organ.” Find your equivalent of that giant thermometer and update it frequently. You can go low tech with a chart stuck to the fridge or hi tech with one of many budgeting apps available like TrackMySPEND or Pocketbook.

Make a commitment

As we’ve learnt, our future self is unreliable when it comes to turning a pay rise into a nest egg. But what if you made the commitment now to put extra income away for a rainy day? This is exactly what Richard Thaler, author of Nudge did with his Save More Tomorrow program. Under this arrangement, people committed to save 3% of their salary each time they had a pay rise for the next four pay increases. This approach was very successful, with 78% of people approached joining the program and saving four times more in the process. “Committing to that sacrifice in the future, when you imagine yourself having more to spare is much less difficult,” says Claudia.

Of course being held to this commitment by a third party is much more likely to ensure you actually save any extra salary coming your way. At the very least, if you were to promise yourself you’ll channel your next pay raise or bonus into your savings or super, you’ve probably got a better chance of following through on this idea. Think about setting up a new account that you think of as your extra income account and remember to top it up next time you’re lucky enough to have a pay increase or windfall at work.

Put the brakes on your spending

Saving isn’t just about putting money in the bank. It means controlling your spending too. And Claudia has some rules of thumb for making better choices when you’re on a roll with retail therapy. “If you are buying a product and the shop gives you a choice of three, don’t let the expensive one sway you towards the middle one,” is tip number one from Claudia’s bag of tricks to foil savvy sales tactics. Stores know a product can seem like a steal in comparison to something really pricey and we end up paying more than we bargained for.

In today’s age of tap-and-go with credit and debit cards, it can be really easy to spend money faster than we would if we went to the ATM for cash. Imagine taking out $250 on a Friday morning and then having to go back for more by Saturday evening. But if you just breezily wave your card a few times, it’s pretty easy to let this amount of money go from your account in 36 hours. While this is important for purchases big and small, Claudia has the following tip for thinking twice before spending big. “When you are about to buy something on a credit card, imagine taking the equivalent money out of a cash machine” she writes. “Would you still want to spend it?”

Start small and keep it simple

Claudia’s ultimate advice for people challenged by saving is to set your sights low but make a start. “The lesson we can all draw if we find saving difficult, or think we simply can’t afford to put any money aside, is to start small and simple.” And if you struggle to stay motivated to save on your own, join forces with someone else. Having a money buddy or someone to coach you on the path to better financial management can make all the difference.

Whether you’re good at saving or not, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional can offer valuable advice on making sure you have enough income to live comfortably and achieve your goals.