The study of human behavior over the last fifty years has started to change our understanding of how we work as humans. We have started to understand more things like behavioral inertia, and many cognitive biases. Yet in the middle of all this new knowledge we also still struggle making the kind of behavioral changes that can place us on better paths to success. In fewer parts of our lives is this more relevant than saving. Everyone wants to save more. It runs the gamut from someone who has stashed a large percentage of their income into their retirement account but still would like a down payment on a beach house, all the way down to someone who is sinking and just wants a path to pay off an overwhelming pile of debt.
When starting any kind of behavior change it is prudent to begin by identifying one’s motivation. This could be hopeful or fear based motivation. Both can be helpful in moving forward.
Step one – find your why
With savings, the positive motivation is easy to see, to visualize. It is a number that will show on a statement. What is harder to see is what that might mean. What will it feel like to have saved to meet your goal? What are you saving for? Freedom? Confidence/ Independence? Safety? It is important to know which savings step you are at and lean on the motivation to propel you forward. Knowing what might happen if you don’t save is also important. What risks are being taken by not saving or not saving more? Risk is hard to pin down because it could be as simple as not having an emergency fund if one has to relocate quickly or as complicated as not having enough to replace a portion of a house from miles away because an accident happened and the insurance is denying a claim.
Step two – find your amount
Once we have been brutally honest with ourselves about our motivation and have really honed in on why we are making this change, the next step is to take a hard look at our ability to change. When it comes to saving more we need to have a solid understanding of how much we can save. Start with an honest number, often we can squeeze more out of our finances but it is important to know where to take it from. Savings is most effective when it is sustainable and consistent over time.
The effective way that I have seen clients be able to tackle this question is with an honest look at where the money is going and needs to go. There are many tools available to help with this. The simplest being a tracking and budget paper. Spreadsheets, apps and many online checking accounts will show you what you are spending in different categories. The important factor here is to utilize that same brutal honesty as we look for an amount we can save.
Before we get to the final step it’s worth mentioning that increasing your savings, even fractionally, is empowering. It seems like a catch-22 but that feeling of gaining a little more control of your future is arguably worth more to your future than even the dollars you accumulate. The power you get over your future as your assets build is something to notice and hold onto. Use that to motivate you when coming back around and setting the next round of goals. Much like compounding interest, these kinds of self-empowering decisions compound our resolve to make even bolder steps.
Step three – Start saving
The final step is to start saving. There are many avenues, and arguably the most important part is to start saving and make it happen automatically. There are banks, piggy banks, apps, investment accounts and potentially many more avenues to help you take the effort out of designating certain funds for savings. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the many modes at one’s disposal. Especially if one is just starting down this journey or wants to make a significant change, this step will come with the most resistance. I encourage you to google right now ways available that fit your finances. You can find my email at the bottom of this article and email me for help if you would like to save at Raymond James. The most important part though is to take that step. Even starting your savings with a small amount can have a significant impact on your financial future.