2 Keys to Catching the Elusive Savings Bug

by Jessica Sommerfield · 3 comments

lady-bug-on-a-flower
My husband and I have been saving every extra bit of income for a specific item over the last few months. We didn’t want to just charge the credit card, so we deliberately said ‘no’ to some smaller things along the way and, quicker than I anticipated, saved the amount we needed. Now I can’t wait to do it again, for something else: I’ve caught the ‘savings bug.’

Whether many-legged creatures, colds or computer viruses, things that have the word “bug” attached to them aren’t things we want to catch. But if there’s one bug everyone should make a point to catch, it’s the savings bug. Unlike the bugs you catch passively, however, this one has to be pursued.

No matter how aware we are of the need to save money, many of us still struggle to do it. We can blame so many things – the cost of living, stagnant wages, the price of college tuition, even our children’s voracious appetites. What it really boils down to is usually either:

  • Desire — we don’t want to save badly enough to overcome the obstacles to it, or
  • Discouragement – we’ve failed in the past, or the goal is so insurmountable we don’t think we’re capable of achieving our goal.

Desire is an interesting thing. It can drive us to do amazing things, discipline us beyond our natural tendencies, and put a spark in our eyes that’s hard to extinguish. Desire can even overcome discouragement because we know if we just keep pressing on, we’re going to reach our goal. But how do you get that desire when you don’t have it? How do you get over the odds, the negative outlook of your ability to save?

Apply ‘Emergency Motivation’ to Intangible, Far-off Goals

In my experience, the times in my life I’ve been able to save the most money in the shortest amount of time have been driven by necessity. I didn’t have a choice, so I just did it. It may not have been pretty, but I got it done. Looking back at these times should support the reality that when the motivation is there, we can do anything we put our minds to.

Treating savings this way all the time is hard because there’s no compelling crisis. We need to ‘create’ a crisis, at least in our minds, by making intangible, far-off goals feel like immediate needs. One way to encourage this mentality is to make a list of the benefits or reasons you need to save money — whether to gain greater financial freedom, strengthen the security of your retirement, or prepare for your child’s college education. Write out why this is a need and not just a desire.

Stoke the Fire with Something Small

Applying ‘emergency motivation’ to longer-term savings goals is a great place to start, but it won’t necessarily create excitement for saving since we can’t see immediate results. Just like starting a fire requires starting with small, easily-combustible materials, building our desire to save requires starting with a small, achievable goal – something we can accomplish easily that still requires discipline. When we accomplish a small savings goal, the physical reward or sense of accomplishment ‘stokes’ our desire to save, and it eventually takes off on its own. Practically, this could look like the following:

  • Saving for a family day-trip to a water park or an overnight getaway with your spouse
  • Saving for a new appliance or piece of furniture
  • Saving a certain amount to spend on holiday shopping

These aren’t earth-shattering accomplishments, but they do build confidence that we have what it takes to save money while allowing us to enjoy a more immediate reward. We should discipline ourselves and deliberately re-examine our mentality about savings, but feelings of accomplishment and tangible rewards are what really help us catch that savings bug. At least, that’s what worked for me.

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  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    There is an old saying , A small leak can sink a large ship . How true. You have to set goals in life and then work toward those goals . My parents came to this country in the mid 1920’s with no money but had the debt of their ship fare to come to the U.S. They married in 1928 , the market crash came late 1929 and my fathers hours were cut back to 20 hours a week. But he went out door to door looking for extra work. They were very frugal and taught me thrift . We ate healthy 3 meals a day and did not suffer. By 1935 they saved enough money to buy a duplex house . The rental income helped pay off the mortgage . About 11 years later they bought a summer cottage in the Catskills in New York. Many U.S. born citizens could not afford to buy a house let alone a summer cottage . A high percentage of people only know how to spend , spend , spend . No thought is given to the future . I put $ 2000.00 a year into my I.R.A. and after 30 years with cautious investing , the $ 60,000 grew to $ 475,000.00 . Aside from that I also saved money in C.D.’s and earned compounded interest . With my savings I was able to invest whenever the stock market or the housing market crashed. Since I had ready cash , I was able to buy / invest when everyone was frantically selling. Because I had cash , I was able to buy dirt cheap. Because my parents taught me thrift , I am now extremely wealthy. As the old saying goes , A fool and his money are soon parted.

  • I agree, those small savings goals definitely spur me to take on more smaller sized savings goals. I need the motivation for the big wins though!

    • David Ning says:

      Those big goals are long journeys. It might be better if you break them into more immediate milestones in order for you to track progress and feel more motivated.

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