Americans are pretty awful at saving money. And 25% of Americans said they would give up showers in order to save money, so systemic issues, such as income inequality, are likely more to blame than individual habits. But don’t let that be your excuse. Even when you are nearly broke, you can still find ways to save here and there. You can cut out unnecessary expenses, eat your meals at home, and stick to a strict budget.
Are you getting bored yet?
It seems for some people, no matter how many articles they read or advisers they meet with, today’s wants simply outweigh tomorrow’s needs. That’s not to say there aren’t people who have money troubles for no fault of their own. But if your steady income is accompanied by a history of poor money management, unpaid debts, and bad financial choices, chances are good you’re just a terrible saver.
To help you understand why you can’t seem to put any of your paycheck aside, we’ve outlined some of the reasons people are so inept at saving. If you can understand where you’ve gone wrong, it will help you finally turn things around. Here are the major missteps of the savings-challenged.
1. You keep upgrading your lifestyle
When you get a tax refund or bonus at work, is your first thought to go out and splurge on a luxury? Impulse buying is one of the most dangerous habits consumers can develop, and it can be made even easier by sudden windfalls. This is how people get into the dangerous cycle of unnecessarily living paycheck to paycheck. What happens is you justify each purchase by telling yourself you still have money “left over.”
You might think of increased wealth as a chance to seek status symbols or lifestyle upgrades. Instead, use your newly acquired wealth to break free from old habits. If you resist the temptation to spend your entire paycheck, you’ll find a little security will give you much more freedom than a lifestyle upgrade.
2. You procrastinate
There’s a reason why “pay yourself first” is a golden rule of personal finance. It’s because if people don’t set aside money right away, most won’t do it at all. The general idea is this: Take a certain percentage of your paycheck, and allocate it to savings. And the remainder is what you’ll be left with to use for bills and other expenses.
Bad savers are often procrastinators, so they continuously tell themselves they’ll save later. To take the pressure off, these kinds of consumers can benefit from setting up automatic withdrawals each month. This gives you no choice but to save, so you can stop making excuses to put it off again and again.
3. You think saving is lame
Bad savers sometimes claim they like to “live in the now,” rather than prepare for the future. Do you ever feel like you are stuck in the present? It’s often a lot less glamorous and exciting than it sounds. You can’t have much fun living in the present moment if your present always feels like you are running out of money.
Savers are actually better equipped to take the occasional spontaneous trip or adventure because they don’t have to wait for their next paycheck every time they want to do something fun. Instead of focusing on what you want in the here and now — and being disappointed when you can’t afford it — start thinking about what you really want. If you can see past your immediate desires, your bigger goals will start to motivate you. Then, you’ll see saving isn’t a chore at all. It’s your ticket to financial freedom.
4. You’re afraid of money
A lot of people are afraid of not having enough money, but there are some who have the opposite problem. If you’re afraid of amassing too much wealth, it will be important for you to dig deep and find out why. Meeting with a therapist can help you uncover why you have a fear of obtaining financial success. One way this fear of money can manifest is through underearning. Financial educator Barbara Stanny addresses this issue in her book Overcoming Underearning.
5. You’re too nice
Do you freely lend money to anyone who asks? If you’re the family ATM, this behavior needs to stop. It will be difficult to save money if you don’t keep some of it in your bank account. Work to get over your fear of being seen as the bad guy, and practice saying “no” every now and then. Don’t agree to lend money if it would put your financial future at risk.
Also, remember your relationships could be at risk if the loan isn’t repaid (which is likely). A money etiquette survey revealed 57% of people said they have witnessed the breakdown of a friendship or some other close relationship because one person didn’t pay back the other.
6. You have bad habits
Your habits determine the quality of your life. This applies not only to your professional life but your personal life, as well. The ability to save money doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a habit that must be developed over time. Until you learn how to consistently save money each pay day, you’ll continue to struggle. One great way to get started is to automate your savings.
7. You don’t have support
If you spend time with people who aren’t good at money management, their bad habits could eventually rub off on you. And if you’re a saver and you happen to marry a spender, you’re in for a lot of marital conflict down the road. Make an effort to keep company with friends and family members who respect money. Also, consider appointing someone to become an accountability partner. This way, when you’re tempted to overspend, you can give him or her a quick call.
8. You compare yourself
Comparing yourself to your neighbors or acquaintances is normal, but frequently engaging in this behavior could lead you to make some very poor financial choices. For example, if you always see others dressed well, this could cause you to feel like you don’t look good enough. You might start spending money you don’t have on new clothes, so you can fit in and look nice. However, those credit card purchases will catch up to you, and you’ll be left with a bill you can’t pay.
9. You don’t have financial goals
Before you can take a step forward, you need to know where you’re going. Progressing financially will require you to set and keep money goals. If you want to reach those goals, you need to consistently remind yourself of where you want to be in the next few years. Keep your eye on the prize by creating a financial vision board. Keep the board next to your bed, so you’ll be consistently reminded of what you’ve been working so hard to achieve.
10. You’re not motivated
If life has been going smoothly, you probably don’t think much about saving cash. However, life is unpredictable. A major emergency could knock you right off your feet. All it takes is an unexpected illness, a divorce, or a sudden death to change your financial circumstances overnight. If you can’t seem to get motivated, think about what your life would be like without an extra cash cushion.
Additional reporting by Chloe Della Costa.
Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.