- Staying motivated to save money is a challenge when “life” gets in the way.
- Tuning in to your unique motivations can make saving easier and make progress simpler to see.
- Giving savings a purpose can help sustain savings success.
Ask anyone if they want to do a better job of saving money and the answer is likely to be yes. While it’s a common intention, it’s also a hard goal to consistently meet — especially when there’s not much money left at the end of the month or the reasons for putting money aside are fuzzy and undefined.
The good news is that there are ways to make saving easier and make progress simpler to see. If you can tune in to your motivation to save, then you can assign a meaningful purpose to your savings goals. And when that happens, success follows.
Why is it Difficult to Stay Motivated to Save?
Despite our shared beliefs around its many benefits, in practice, saving money is often easier said than done. Here are three common reasons why it’s hard to stay on track with savings goals.
You have competing money needs
How many different expenses do you have each month? A dozen? Even more? Whether it’s rent, groceries, the car payment or childcare, it’s not unusual for savings to end up at the very bottom of the family budget list. Even though the desire to save is there, it’s often relegated to whatever’s left over at the end of the month, which realistically may amount to little or nothing after essentials are paid. Plus, let’s be honest, most of us can and will find other things to spend our money on, which is why simply hoping for money to be left over each month doesn’t usually translate to a growing savings account.
The present displaces the future
When the dishwasher dies or the extra dental bill arrives, it’s easy to prioritize immediate needs while putting off others that aren’t rooted in the here and now. As a result, many of us struggle to keep a steady savings habit going, simply because life gets in the way.
Savings goals are vague, not specific
Everyone might say they want to save for a “rainy day” emergency fund or save for the “future.” But vague obligations can make it tough to stay motivated — and follow through in measurable ways. Undefined reasons to save can also make it mentally easier to skip or interrupt the goal without consequence, especially when it’s an abstract kind of target that may be far off and years ahead, like retirement savings.
A common goal such as “building savings” can be one of those murky targets. For starters, there’s no end to “building savings” and, therefore, there’s no success to celebrate. Drilling down how much you want to save, what the savings are for and when you plan to have it set aside, are all required details to bring your goals to life.
How to Find Motivation to Save Money
As you can see, there are plenty of influences at work that make consistent saving challenging for all of us. Here are a few tricks that can tip the balance in your favor and help strengthen and sustain your motivation to start saving.
Find your ‘why’
While it’s admirable and wise to save money just because you know you should — it’s not all that motivating. Attaching a strong reason to what you’re saving for and why goes beyond a general objective — making it significant, purposeful and important to your financial journey. Are you saving to have increased feelings of security or stability? Do you want to be in a position to help your child get through college? Or maybe you're saving to for a down payment on a house or car? Goals with color, with texture and meaning, create a stronger link between our brains and achieving the end result.
What will achieving a savings goal represent? Visualizing and recalling that personal impact can motivate us to keep taking the steps to get there. Use the emotional investment associated with your “why” to brainstorm your path to achieving your goals.
Give your money a purpose
The more specific you are about what you’re saving for, the more connected to the goal you’ll feel and the clearer you will be on your progress. Being specific and clear can provide a framework for success. You’ll be able to easily judge your progress and simplify savings decision-making. It’s one way to keep financial planning top of mind.
Let’s say your kids really need new bedroom furniture now that they’re past the toddler stage. Or maybe you want to stash away money toward a down payment on a townhome within the next three years — with an extra room that could welcome loved ones. If you have money set aside for meaningful purposes and long-term goals, you’ll be less likely to veer off the intended use and divert it toward other spending.
Set small milestones
Saving for life’s many big goals can seem overwhelming. That’s why breaking them down into smaller goals with separate and distinct purposes can help. Beyond a clearly defined reason, make your motivation to save even more strategic by defining parameters like the amount of money you’ll put aside, when and how. Start with smaller, short-term targets and feel good about reaching them. After all, celebrating the first $50 saved is just as important as celebrating that first $500. What matters is that you connect comfortable savings goals, amounts and timelines to fit your financial situation.
Tap the Power of Earmarking
Earmarking is the process of dividing up money according to how it will be used. Research shows that earmarking savings for a particular, defined purpose can help improve savings behavior and increase your savings balances, too. How? By allocating savings into different and meaningful pots, earmarking can naturally lead to a sense of success and commitment.
Open multiple savings accounts
For instance, if you’ve managed to save $500 dollars in a single account, it might be harder in your mind to dole it out in ways that prioritize your money plans. It’s also harder to know how far along you are in reaching those objectives. However, if you earmark $300 in a vacation account, $100 in a car repair account and $100 in a holiday gift account, you can see yourself making progress on many things that are meaningful to you. Immediately, you will be able to see how much further you have to go to hit your savings goals.
Assigning your goals to separate bank accounts also means that when summer comes and you tap that vacation fund, it represents savings success because you spent the money for the specific purpose you gave it.
The bottom line? Opening a savings account for each goal empowers you to save for what you really need or want in life.
Name your savings buckets
Categorizing savings into buckets that match the money goals you choose is the benefit of having multiple savings accounts. And labeling those buckets with a name can further personalize the reason for saving — keeping the aim in sight and the positive motivation going. Maybe it’s “Beach Trip” or maybe it’s “New Patio.” Named savings accounts work well because they help build enthusiasm to reach each of your savings targets.
Together, these earmarking strategies can help you to know when and how to spend your savings. If you’ve ever had to drain half of your savings to pay for a car repair — you know it doesn’t usually feel like a win. But, if something as simple as having multiple accounts with clear names can make the same withdrawal feel a little more like a success — isn’t it worth giving it a shot?
Finding Your Motivation to Save
Giving your savings a clear and meaningful purpose can provide the motivational spark or organizational structure that makes savings success easier to achieve. Not only does it clarify the financial goals you’re working toward as a saver, but it fosters a sense of accomplishment when you see and enjoy the progress being made toward something that really matters to you.