Every day we are bombarded with advertisements. We witness first hand the flashy new clothes or cars that our fellow man or woman has. As we walk through the grocery store, endless products jump out at us that we know we probably shouldn’t buy. Flipping on the TV we are soaking in hours of pitches by companies telling us what to buy and what is good for us. We go about life and in pops in something new that picks our interest. There’s always something more we want. There’s always something to buy. Is it any wonder why all of our money leaks out of our checking accounts like a freaking sieve?
Something that has a lot to do with how we manage or rather mismanage our money is our self-control.
When it comes to saving money, eating healthy, or anything like that, we first must be able to recognize our limitations. If you’re obese, it’s probably not a good idea to go to a buffet. If you have itchy palms, are a shopaholic, or like to engage in retail therapy, it’s probably not a good idea to surf Amazon all day. By first recognizing what are weaknesses are, we can better combat them by avoiding putting ourselves in situations where we are too weak to control ourselves. We know that we value more having something now or our needs met now rather than in the waiting. If we can have the pleasure now, why wait to have it later? Is there even going to be a later?
This is exactly our biggest obstacle when it comes to self-control. We connect more with the present. The future is abstract. Our decisions now involve emotion. Our future decisions do not involve emotion. They’re less real. The makes delaying something for the future comes with a discount. It is not as valuable as what we have right now in front of us.
Saving money always has the consequence of giving up something now for the benefit of the future. With money, we can use it to buy anything. So in a sense, we are giving up all the very real possibilities we could use that money for to enhance our lives now. The problem goes even further when we save money in just a checking or savings account. It’s always there tempting us. We can pull it out at any moments notice and use it for whatever.
Some people are more disciplined to not touch their money in easily accessed accounts. But I see the solution for the vast majority once they are able to save money, is to stash it in retirement accounts. Not only are there penalties for withdrawing money but there are also incentives to save inside a retirement account, which is to be able to save even more money! Hooray for tax sheltering.
First things first
The first step on the road to being able to save money, or spend less than you earn, is to be able to recognize and separate your wants versus needs. Of course, everybody’s needs will be different but if we can look inward and really come to understand what our true needs our be it: housing (where to live, live in a house, apartment, RV?), food (cooking at home, growing a garden, rice and beans?), transportation (owning a car, bus, bike?), etc.
Once we pin down what all of our ongoing needs are and are able to put a cost on them, we will be able to then find out what our wants are. Some wants are fine to give into here and there, but as we know, we can’t have everything we want. And if we want to save any money, we have to decide what more we can do without.
The first step to getting your finances in order and on track is to figure out what your regular expenses are. I’m not talking about setting a budget, which for many of us is more equated to something like dieting. The foundation to personal finance is to know to great detail what your ongoing expenses are. What are your needs, what are your habits?
Now, one of the biggest things that can trip us to on the path to saving money is temptation. If there’s money in our account then there will always be something to tempt us to part with it. When we are able to recognize our emotions that are tempting us, we can then better understand how to manage that temptation without giving into it.
The next step involves something more drastic. If we can find out what in what situations we face more temptations, then it behooves us to avoid those situations if we don’t want to succumb to our weakness. The Almighty Himself even proclaims that we should, “Cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin (succumb to our weakness).” The point is, we must take drastic measures if we want to overcome our weaknesses.
After we have removed things/situations that cause us to stumble, we can then focus on building our willpower so we can exercise it more frequently and have it be effective. Willpower is mind over matter. Sacrificing now for the future.
Saving money and sacrificing now for the future requires a strategy to be effective at it. Another thing that can help to save is to better connect with our future selves. We need to be more invested in our future. Try to define what that future will be that way it will be more relatable and vivid.
Strategies for saving $$
Another strategy is to pre-commit to a type and quantity of savings at the start of the month. This goes along the lines of save first then spend or “pay yourself first.” When we automate savings, it is never in our primary spending account to temp us. The money is stashed away before we even get a chance to see it. Even if we start out small, say even just $100 a month, it can and will build up into something big.
Yet another strategy to help us with self-control is called reward substitution. This is where we can reward ourselves with something when we do something that we don’t want to. Perhaps this can look like going out for an ice cream treat every month when we put savings away, or giving ourselves some pocket money to blow every time we save another couple hundred dollars.
Finally, research shows that having a support system can help you reach your goals. Surround yourself with people you trust who will be supportive of your financial goals and willing to help you succeed. This is a big piece of the puzzle if we struggle to save money or have good financial habits or are loaded with debt. When your on your own, it may feel like you’re on an island stranded with sharks circling around. Building a team or a support network is crucial and will always be worth it.
The bottom line is if we want to get out of debt and start saving more money we have to make the choice. Are we going to continue to embrace what’s easy and comfortable to us? Are we going to continue to justify our behaviors or are we going to change? Bank accounts don’t get filled on their own.