Great Savings

How to train your brain to save money

How to train your brain to save money

It is referred to as the ‘$100 Bill Challenge’, where Mac Gardner, an advocate for financial literacy, presents a $100 bill to elementary school students and asks them how they would utilize it. Surprisingly, nine out of ten students express their intention to spend it, shedding light on the psychology of money-saving. Gardner suggests that Americans are ingrained with a tendency to consume from an early age.

This psychological inclination may explain the difficulty in cutting back on indulgences like gourmet coffees during the daily commute. Furthermore, it poses challenges in accumulating savings and establishing a long-term financial plan.

Thankfully, gaining a deeper understanding of the psychology behind saving money can greatly facilitate the development of sound financial habits. As you delve into your own money mindset, you will also realize that there exist proven methods for bringing about positive changes.

The psychological principles underlying the act of saving money

Your financial habits, both in terms of saving and spending, are influenced by a cluster of behavioral biases. Similar to other biases, these unconscious assumptions exert their influence on your behavior without your conscious awareness. Here, we present a glimpse into the scientific insights regarding your financial well-being.

Mental accounting

Mental accounting involves categorizing your funds based on subjective criteria, leading to potential financial challenges. For instance, while having a savings fund dedicated to a future car may seem beneficial, it can be counterproductive if you have significant credit card debt and are only making minimum payments each month.

From a psychological perspective on saving money, you may find yourself stuck in a cycle. Your mind recognizes the importance of saving, but in reality, you could save more by temporarily setting aside the car fund and prioritizing the repayment of high-interest credit card bills.

Loss aversion

Fear can exert a significant influence on human behavior, and this is particularly relevant in the context of savings. Loss aversion is the phenomenon whereby consumers tend to avoid choices that may result in financial losses.

How does this relate to saving? It’s quite straightforward. As you increase the amount of money you set aside in your savings account, your available monthly spending money decreases. Loss aversion urges you to refrain from saving so that you have a larger pool of funds at your disposal.

Essentially, loss aversion can be thought of as the scientific term for financial FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Your subconscious fear of missing out on potential spending opportunities may be interfering with your overall spending strategy.

Gaining insight into your attitude towards money

Although it may be challenging, developing a savings mindset often necessitates introspection. It is essential to comprehend your personal perspective on finances in order to define your financial objectives and recognize any behaviors or beliefs that might hinder your progress towards those goals.

Defining your financial objectives and principles

Within the realm of saving money, having well-defined goals is crucial for maintaining motivation. By identifying your financial goals and values, you can enhance your commitment to your savings plan.

As an example, you may hold personal values such as:

  • Attaining financial independence
  • Establishing long-term financial security
  • Accumulating wealth for future endeavors

These values can be transformed into concrete financial objectives, such as:

  • Clearing outstanding debts
  • Establishing an emergency fund
  • Saving for retirement
  • Working towards a significant purchase, such as a house or a car

Aligning your spending patterns with your core values requires the ability to decline anything that does not contribute to achieving your objectives. For instance, if frequently ordering take-out meals impedes your progress in paying off debt, it is necessary to make adjustments.

Assessing your beliefs and attitudes towards money is equally important

Some individuals perceive money as a symbol of personal status, which can lead to increased spending on designer brands or luxury items. On the other hand, you might view money as a form of reward. After paying major expenses, you may indulge yourself by making online purchases or enjoying lavish meals.

Reflecting on the hypothetical scenario of the $100 Bill Challenge can provide insights into your beliefs about money and shed light on your financial behaviors and habits.

Reprogramming your mind for saving

The good news is that adopting healthy habits has the potential to rewire your brain through the fascinating concept of neuroplasticity. As you develop new habits, your brain forges fresh connections and cognitive pathways, incorporating these external behaviors into your identity.

There are two primary approaches to rewiring your brain:

Implementing automated savings

To begin with, you can opt for the straightforward approach of automating your savings. Many mobile banking applications offer convenient options for setting up automatic deposits and transfers. By leveraging this feature, a predetermined amount of money can be regularly moved from your checking account to a dedicated savings account.

This method enables you to build your savings effortlessly, as it eliminates the need for constant manual intervention. Alternatively, you can utilize a third-party financial management app to assist you in tracking your progress and managing your savings effectively.

Visualizing your goals

You’re likely familiar with the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Well, the opposite holds true as well. By creating a visual representation of your financial goals, you can safeguard yourself against reverting to old, unhealthy habits and maintain a clear focus on what truly matters to you.

Certain banking or financial apps offer features like graphs or timelines that help you track your progress. However, don’t hesitate to unleash your creativity. For instance, if you’re saving for a house, consider placing a photograph of your dream home on your refrigerator or setting it as your phone’s wallpaper.

An additional benefit of visualizing your goals is that it fosters anticipation for the future, which can positively impact your mental well-being.

Conquering psychological obstacles

Even with the best intentions, it’s not uncommon to occasionally fall into the trap of self-sabotage. You might find yourself indulging in spending habits that contradict your financial priorities or hinder your planned savings.

Here’s a guide on overcoming psychological resistance to maintain unwavering focus on your goals.

Addressing impulsive spending

How frequently do you find yourself making unplanned purchases? Many individuals engage in impulsive buying due to feelings of anxiety or a perceived sense of incompleteness without certain items. However, your shopping habits also contribute significantly to this behavior.

Researchers from MIT have made an intriguing discovery: when you use a credit card for shopping, it directly activates your brain’s reward system more strongly than when you use cash. Consequently, the use of credit cards increases the likelihood of experiencing future ‘purchase cravings’.

Relying solely on willpower may not always be sufficient to control impulsive spending. Here are effective ways to break the cycle of this habit:

  • Establishing a well-defined budget before entering a store.
  • Avoiding grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
  • Removing your saved credit card details from e-commerce websites.
  • Seeking accountability from your family or loved ones for significant purchases.

Remember that marketing experts make a living by creating a sense of incompleteness. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you need a specific item. In fact, maintaining a strong focus on saving will benefit you in the long run.

Tap into the potential of delayed gratification

Impulsive shopping revolves around the immediate satisfaction of fulfilling a purchase craving. However, delayed gratification involves resisting this impulse by opting to either postpone the purchase or reevaluate the decision entirely.

Psychologists assert that delayed gratification is a crucial characteristic observed in highly successful individuals. By delaying your buying decisions, you can avoid depleting your funds that could otherwise be allocated towards savings.

Initiate the adoption of a few new habits:

  • Test your self-control by challenging yourself to resist temptation for as long as possible.
  • Steer clear of websites or stores that entice you to make impulsive purchases.
  • Seek the input of family and friends when contemplating significant purchases.
  • Develop a wishlist and only make purchases when you have accumulated enough savings.

For instance, suppose you have been contemplating upgrading your phone but are uncertain about the timing. Set it as a short-term goal but refrain from making the purchase until you receive your tax refund. By doing so, you address your specific objective while delaying gratification until you are financially prepared.

Create a supportive environment

The environment in which you immerse yourself plays a vital role in nurturing positive habits. The quality of your habits is influenced by the surroundings you choose. Here are ways to foster better habits through positive influences.

Seeking support from individuals with similar goals

To develop a healthy mindset towards saving money, it is crucial to have a supportive social circle that reinforces your commitment to improved financial well-being. A strong support system can deter you from succumbing to negative habits like impulsive spending or excessive dining out.

Ideally, your friends and family can form a powerful network of support. However, if that is not feasible, you can explore alternative options such as joining an online community or finding an accountability partner through financial or professional platforms.

For instance, Reddit offers a personal finance section, and NPR hosts a Facebook support group called ‘Your Money and Your Life’, where you can connect with like-minded individuals seeking financial guidance and support.

Minimize exposure to materialistic influences

Guard yourself against the allure of marketing tactics that try to create a sense of longing or dissatisfaction. They may suggest that your life would be complete if you were to acquire the latest gadget or that owning certain brands would enhance your style and status.

To evade the ‘if only’ spell, take proactive steps to distance yourself from materialistic influences:

  • Steer clear of magazines or online blogs that heavily promote luxury items or fashion.
  • Limit your time spent on social media platforms where advertisers often target users.
  • Disregard television advertisements that aim to create a sense of longing for certain products.
  • Find fulfillment and satisfaction through engaging in healthy hobbies and activities.

While anyone can fall prey to the allure of the ‘if only’ mindset, by minimizing exposure to these influences, you can safeguard yourself against feelings of inadequacy or the belief that material possessions are necessary for completeness.

The significance of rewards and celebrations

Within the psychology of saving money, it is essential to pause and appreciate your progress. Taking the time to celebrate milestones not only serves as a reminder of your goals but also offers a release from the practice of delayed gratification.

Integrate small rewards for achieving savings milestones

By rewarding yourself for consistently following a new habit, your brain begins to associate that habit with positivity. Therefore, when you reach a significant savings milestone, granting yourself a small reward can assist in reprogramming your brain’s associations and reinforce the desired behavior.

What types of rewards are suitable? Here are some options to consider:

  • Enjoying a dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • Having a cozy movie night at home.
  • Indulging in your favorite dessert.
  • Treating yourself to a small purchase you’ve been postponing.

Involve your friends and family in the celebration. A social gathering can make the reward even more significant and trigger the release of additional endorphins, amplifying the joy of the reward.

Celebrate progress and financial victories

What types of accomplishments are worth celebrating?

Here are a few potential milestones:

  • Reaching your initial savings goal of $1,000.
  • Successfully paying off a credit card balance.
  • Making substantial progress in repaying your student loans (such as reaching the halfway point).

While it’s important to exercise moderation, any achievement, no matter how big or small, deserves recognition. Even a modest reward can serve as a motivating factor to continue making progress and maintain momentum towards your financial goals.

Stay on course. How to train your brain to save money conclusion

Saving money can indeed present its challenges, but by adopting frugal spending habits and prioritizing saving, you can cultivate behaviors that will benefit you in the long run. Incorporating the aforementioned tips into your financial routine might pleasantly surprise you with how smoothly you can achieve your financial objectives.