Saving is important. Even the most hedonistic, “YOLO”-spouting surfer among us hits a point when he realizes it’d be smart to sock a little money away for a wave-less day—or retirement.
But knowing you should save and actually setting aside your hard-earned cash are two different things. And no wonder: Saving for some nebulous future event—whether it’s retirement or losing a job—isn’t super compelling when set aside the immediate satisfaction of upgrading your work attire or ride.
Fortunately, some researchers have unlocked the psychological and motivational keys to following through with your savings goals. Learn them, adopt them, and you’ll find saving isn’t such a struggle.
This flies in the face of pretty much every self-help book on the market. But research from New York University suggests visualizing a future in which you’ve successfully saved enough money to retire or buy that thing you wanted could actually hurt the chances you’ll keep saving.
The study authors say “positive visualization” tricks your brain into believing you’ve already reached your finish line, which kills your motivation.
You’re better of daydreaming about how crappy your life will be if you don’t save. Or better yet, think about the obstacles that stand between you and your idealized future. That will help you anticipate and leap over those hurdles, the study suggests.
Especially when it comes to saving for retirement, you need to identify the specific amount you hope to save, shows research from the University of Southern California. By coming up with a figure, you’ll tighten your focus and feel more driven to stick with your savings goals, the research shows.
That said, inflation, the interest you’ll earn on your savings, and a dozen other factors can make it tough to spitball a figure. You’re best off talking with a financial adviser. He or she can help you come up with a target amount, and what you’d have to put away each year to hit it.
TAKE BABY STEPS
Like anything else in life that requires willpower, saving is simpler when you focus on manageable short-term goals. Break your savings objective into weekly targets—say, $50 a week, as opposed to $2,500 a year—and you’ll find sticking with it will feel less daunting, finds a study in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.
A similar study—this one from Rice University in Texas—found people who set weekly savings goals put away 78% more cash than those who put money away without a weekly or monthly plan in place.
NOW TURN THAT WEEKLY TARGET AMOUNT INTO A “RANGE”
You’ll feel more motivated to save if you’re shooting for a range, finds a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. For example: If you know you need to put away at least $50 a week to reach your savings goal, set a weekly target of $50 to $75. The study team found aiming for a range creates a greater sense of both “attainability” and “motivation” in your brain—both of which help you stay with it.
SET AN END DATE
Whether you’re saving for retirement or a ski trip, you need to have a date in mind when you’ll get to spend your saved loot, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania.
The study authors compare saving without an end-date to being placed on hold by your cable company. When you don’t know how long the wait will be, that makes you antsy and less likely to stay on the line … or to keep saving.
Coming up with a specific date to spend your savings—whether it’s your 65th birthday or December 5th of this year—will help you stay focused, the study authors say.