Saving money is a bit like bluffing in poker. Whether the cards you’re dealt are high or low doesn’t matter nearly as much as your ability to fool your opponents.
It’s all about the mental game — and when it comes to saving, the only opponent you need to overcome is yourself.
There’s a reason 65 percent of Americans don’t have much (if any) saved, even though they know they should. Most of us have some psychological issues around money, including subconscious beliefs that saving is hard or we don’t have enough income to do it. But if saving money seems hard, that’s just because we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking it is. Actually, saving can be easy.
Don’t believe it? Give the following bluffs a try, and see if you can outwit yourself.
Pay yourself first
Think of your personal finances as a company, and you’re the CEO. You cover your overhead costs, buy supplies to keep things running, and pay your employees. But how often do you pay yourself? Even the CEO needs to take home a paycheck. Your savings is like a salary for your future self — and it’s definitely OK to make paying yourself a top priority.
Set and forget
Saving is much easier when you don’t have to think about it. Every time we manually transfer money into a savings account, we tend to weigh all the things we could be spending it on. And since the needs of today often feel more urgent than saving for an indistinct future, it’s easy to talk yourself out of saving at all. When you set up an automatic transfer into savings, however, you don’t have to make that mental calculation each time. Just pick an amount you can spare, factor it into your budget and before long you’ll have forgotten all about the “extra” money you used to have. Meanwhile, your savings will be piling up.
Give yourself an annual raise
Once you’ve automated your savings, start increasing the amount incrementally each year. For example, if you started out saving 10 percent of your income, increase the amount by 1 percent every six to 12 months. Your savings will grow even faster, but you’ll barely notice the incremental change in your budget. Within several years, you’ll find yourself automatically saving a larger portion of your paycheck — and you’ll be totally used to it.
Use a digital change jar
A spare-change jar doesn’t fill up very quickly when you’re mostly cashless. But imagine if you saved the “change” from every debit card purchase you make. That would add up fast! OCCU’s Change Jar program rounds up every debit purchase to the nearest dollar, then automatically transfers the extra into your savings account. You won’t even notice the missing change — but your savings account will.
Set small savings goals
Ever wonder why video games are so addictive? It’s partly because they provide gamers with a series of small, achievable goals. When we get close to finishing a task, we typically get a surge of motivation that pushes us to work harder and finish the job. By breaking a long-term savings goal into smaller milestones, you can give yourself regular surges of motivation that help sustain your momentum. Each time you reach a savings milestone, take a moment to celebrate before setting your next achievable goal.
Bank your windfalls
Got a holiday bonus? Some Christmas cash? A nice tax refund? While it’s tempting to spend these windfalls, you’re better off saving them if you can. Don’t think of it as depriving yourself—think of it as giving your money some time to grow. If you let it sit around and earn compound interest for a few years, you’ll have an even bigger boon than you started with.
Once you master these saving tricks, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to start stashing away money. By fooling yourself into saving without realizing it, you can turn even a lowly deuce into an ace in the hole for your future self.