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The Psychology of Saving

The Psychology of Saving

Saving money sounds simple, and in many ways, it is. You simply 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 the things you most want. But in reality, saving is a little more complicated. Sometimes, our own minds seem to work against us when it comes to setting aside some of the money we earn. That’s why a basic understanding of the psychology of saving can help you overcome roadblocks and get closer to your goals.

Why It’s Hard to Save

What is one of the biggest obstacles most people face when it comes to 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. For example, one study found that most adults would prefer to have $50 today rather than $100 two years from now.

Part of the difficulty people face 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 — either about the future or about saving in general — might allow us to set aside more money. A recent study found that people who adopted a cyclical mindset to saving that is focused on making saving a 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 save $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 that you’ll see a psychological boost from doing so. A 2013 survey by Ally Bank found that 38% of people with a savings account reported being extremely happy, compared to on 29% of people who didn’t have a savings account. That same survey found that 82% of people reported that 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 that they considered meaningful.

While our mental quirks might sometimes make saving difficult, being aware of the obstacles our mind presents can help us find our way around them. And in turn, that may lead to greater savings and increased happiness overall.

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Copyright © Integrated Concepts 2015. Some articles in this newsletter were prepared by Integrated Concepts, a separate, nonaffiliated business entity. This newsletter intends to offer factual and up-to-date information on the subjects discussed, but should not be regarded as a complete analysis of these subjects. The appropriate professional advisers should be consulted before implementing any options presented. No party assumes liability for any loss or damage resulting from errors or omissions or reliance on or use of this material. 

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