January 10, 2010

Why Is Saving So Difficult?

by

Blue Piggy Bank

When I was growing up, if you wanted something you had to save for it.  Sure, I’m dating myself back to the 80’s with my big hair and new wave music.  But, the reality is that credit cards were not ubiquitous and most people didn’t buy things on credit.  If you wanted to fly and see grandma you had to have the money when you bought your plane ticket.  Going out to dinner meant you better have cash in your wallet or a check that wouldn’t bounce come Monday.

About the only place you would get credit was at the local furniture store or a loan at the bank.  I remember going in with my mom looking for a new couch.  I was 7 or 8 at the time.  I also remember going in there every week and dropping off money to pay for our cool new couch that doubled as a trampoline when Mom wasn’t around.  There was always this urgency each week to go pay Mr. Daw at the furniture store.

It seems that there was no such thing as instant gratification.  Or maybe the definition of ‘instant’ has changed.  We now live in a 24/7, text-message, twitter, cell phone, all news-all the time kind of world.  We can’t even wait for water to boil in a kettle any more, thanks to the microwave.  Forget voice mail, that’s so 1980s.  We have two-way paging and texting and instant messaging.  People answer their phone when they are in the bathroom — is it really that important that it can’t wait a few minutes?

As a kid, I just had to wait.  Even now, as a parent, I’m trying to instill in my daughter that we can’t always have everything right now.  So when did it change?  When do we go from it being OK to wait to needing it right now?

Ah, yes, College!  All you needed was a student ID and they’d give you a credit card.  Job?  Uh, no!  Paycheck?  What’s that?  But the credit card companies were out in full force handing out free credit cards and T-shirts.  Who doesn’t need a free T-shirt?

But not everyone goes to college, so they’re great savers, right?  Not always.  Maybe they joined the military or got a job right out of high school.  Our soldiers are told they need to establish their financial history so credit card companies hand over the plastic as easily as saying ‘Yes, sir!.’  Soldier = job security, so why not.  New job at 18 means you qualify to get a credit card.

What no one ever really taught any of us newly minted credit card holders was what it meant to have a credit card and what responsibilities we had.  Of course you had to pay the bill when it came in, but they were so nice to let us pay in easy low monthly payments.  I’m establishing my credit history, right?  Wrong.  Debt, here I come!  Instant gratification is my BFF!

No one ever taught us about the value (and virtue of saving).  It’s not an intuitive process.  Our brains are not programmed to desire saving.  We want instant gratification.  We’re born that way.  Ask any child if they want one M&M now or a bag of M&Ms next week, what do you think they’ll tell you.  Yep!  One M&M now please (they use their manners because you taught them!).  But, a whole  bag of M&Ms next week is so much more.  Not to our brain.  Our brain wants it NOW.  And we’ve all seen the child having a fit because they can’t get what they want RIGHT NOW.  No matter how much mom and/or dad cajole the child or bribe with some sort of delayed gratification mechanism, the child wants what he wants and he wants it NOW!

So, we’re born not wanting to save.  That doesn’t mean that’s how it should be.  Saving is important.  We’ve all hear the saying about saving for a rainy day.  Most of us know that it’s sunny right now and that’s all that matters.

Add to this that saving is a drag.  Saving takes effort and work  Clipping coupons, watching sales, rebates, where to buy gas — that’s a lot to keep in our brains.  Yes, there are places we can get help and guidance (like right here at Saving for Someday).  But that takes time away from doing something cool and fun and buying stuff and hanging out with our friends.

Inflation and the job market and the ‘Great Recession’ have all contributed to the belief that saving is difficult.  They have also contributed to the reality of saving being difficult.  Prices have gone up faster than salary.  Our money just doesn’t go as far as it used to go.  Which is an even more compelling reason to look for ways to save.

Every year manufacturers and retailers spend billions (yes, with a B) of dollars on consumer promotions.  They’re trying to drive people in to the stores to buy more stuff.  Still, less than 5% of all coupons and promotions are redeemed.  It may seem like the whole world is using coupons and holding up the line at the grocery store.  But, truth be told, it’s only a small fraction of shoppers who are dedicated couponers.  It takes time and scouring ads and websites and clipping coupons just isn’t as fun as, say, playing Wii, going to the movies or out to dinner.  It’s not quick and easy, so we don’t want to do it.

The great thing is that we can change this mindset of needing immediate gratification and thinking saving is a drag.  By setting SMART saving goals, savings can become easy and natural.  Here is how you do it:

Set a SPECIFIC goal

Make it MEASURABLE

Make it something you can actually ATTAIN

Your goal should be REALISTIC

And it needs to be TIMELY, give yourself a target to work toward.

Saving goals are often HUGE and overwhelming.  It’s great to have lofty goals like owning your house outright or paying for your child to go to college.  They seem so large and out of reach, though, that after a short period of time we just give up.  Don’t give up!  Just set smaller goals so that when you reach them you’ve trained yourself to see saving as something rewarding.

We need to retrain the brain to believe that saving isn’t so difficult.  We need to impress upon ourselves that saving brings instant gratification.  We’re all Saving for Someday.  We just need to start now by defining what that ‘Someday’ or however many ‘Somedays’ you have really is.

We no longer live in caves and hunt/gather.  Food and shelter is not that scarce.  We don’t have to worry about not eating for weeks if we can’t find an animal to kill.  We are living in 2010.  We have evolved!  And now is the time for our feeling about saving to evolve.

Save Today for Freedom Tomorrow!

I’d love to know what you think.  Please share your thoughts and/or comments.

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