In theory, getting richer is a simple calculation: earn more, spend less.
But in practice, it’s harder than it sounds.
In the moment, most of us would rather have that $US25 brunch special than increase our retirement contributions by 1%, or take that desperately “needed” week at the beach instead of saving for a down payment on a two-bedroom bungalow. “Later” doesn’t hold up so well against “now.”
To combat the weakness so many of us feel when it comes to saving money, we’ve rounded up over a dozen awesome mind tricks that could help keep cash in your pocket for another day.
1. Think of your savings in terms of how many “weeks of freedom” they buy. David Weliver from Money Under 30 writes that by estimating how much money you need to live for a year and then breaking that sum into weeks by dividing it by 52, you’ll end up with a much more tangible, urgent goal to save toward instead of an abstractly enormous sum: weeks of freedom. “That’s time to find a new job if you get laid off, time to travel around if you take a sabbatical, or the beginning of retirement — that time when you’re finally free to do whatever the hell you please,” he writes. “The good news is, thanks to compounding interest, the more you save, the less you have to save to buy an incremental week of freedom.”
2. Don’t give things up — “savour” them instead. Giving up something to save money, whether lunch out or cable, can make you feel deprived. That is, unless you change your attitude to start “savouring” instead of “giving up.” “Don’t feel you have to change your lifestyle; merely change the frequency of your indulgences,” writes Reddit user stringliterals. Go to the movies weekly? Try once a month instead. “It’s psychologically much easier to tell yourself you’re not giving anything up, you’re just going to savour [it] more.”
3. Engage the “gas or brake method.” Financial blog Early Retirement Extreme compared making progress on your financial goals to driving. Every decision you make either gets you closer to where you want to be (stepping on the gas) or slows you down (leaning on the brake). The next time you go to make a decision, ask yourself: Am I stepping on the gas or the brake?
4. Remember that when you aren’t earning, you’re spending. Reddit user seerae looks at hours he isn’t earning money as hours he’s spending that money instead. “When I used to work a service industry job… I used to get called in or asked to cover shifts all the time,” he writes. “Of course I’d rather spend the morning sleeping in and then watching some TV, or go hiking in the afternoon, or grab some dinner with friends that evening. But, then I’d think, am I really going to spend $US150 to sleep in and watch TV?” The feeling of losing money is a lot more painful than missing it — and seerae says that agreeing to work was “totally worth it every time.”
5. Practice the “stranger test.” When deciding whether or not to make a purchase, imagine a stranger offering you your would-be purchase in one hand and the cash it would take to buy it in the other. If you’d rather accept the cash, you might as well keep that money in your pocket.
6. Spend your money where you spend your time. Reddit user GreyFoxNinjaFan points out some advice he heard on Reddit: “Spend your money where you spend your time. If you spend a lot of time on your feet, invest in decent, comfortable shoes regardless of the extra cost,” he writes. “If you drive a long way quite regularly, spend money on the inside of the car and how it feels to [drive] the car over how it looks. When you start thinking like that, you also start to notice the superficial stuff you overspend on.”
7. Use the “urgency test” when shopping. J Money from Budgets Are Sexy has a trick that comes in handy when shopping — particularly, for clothes. If you’re wavering on a purchase, ask yourself, “Would I wear this out of the dressing room right now?” If you aren’t excited enough to wear it right then, don’t bother buying it.
8. Procrastinate on non-essential purchases. When it comes to discretionary spending (except for important moves for financial security, like saving for retirement), A. Noonan Moose from Frugal Fringe recommends putting off your purchase to give yourself time to find better prices and make better decisions. We highlighted a few of our favourite examples here.
9. Get close with “weird proposition guy.” Reddit user JitteryBug has a twist on the stranger test: Weird Proposition Guy. “Any time I wanted anything, weird proposition guy would say, ‘I’ll give you $US2.40 if you don’t buy a medium coffee,'” he writes. “After thinking about it, I’d go, ‘Well — I mean — I guess I don’t need it…’ and would hesitate enough to not buy it … Weird proposition guy sucks, but he saved me a lot of money when I really needed it.”
10. Never spend loose change. Make it a hard-and-fast mental rule, suggests blog And Then We Saved, and instead consolidate those unspent coins every night until you have a small pile of savings to bring to the bank. And even if you don’t use cash, she writes, “some banks will round your purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit that money into a savings account. If your bank doesn’t offer that service, you can easily add up the change on your purchases and move that change to a separate account. Doing the maths yourself is a little less magical, but it works.”
11. Break down the monetary value of your hour. Reddit user Koketa13 recommends converting dollars to hours. “If you make $US10 an hour, then that cup of coffee isn’t just $US2, it’s 12 minutes of your life,” he says. “For me, this helped put a lot of things into perspective and cut down on impulse purchases.” Plus, Reddit user xxragnorakxx points out that coffee might be even more expensive in terms of time, because the money you’re spending is part of your after-tax paycheck, not the number you’d think of as your salary or wage.
12. Cover your credit card to create a mental — and physical — barrier. Break out those craft skills. If you’re prone to impulse spending on your credit card (and who isn’t?), Lifehacker recommends creating a simple paper sleeve for your card. Not only does it give you another mental step to climb before you can spend — and another chance to second-guess yourself and put on the brakes — but on the sleeve, you can paste or draw a picture of your savings goals to keep them top of mind, or pen a warning to yourself: “For emergency use only!”
13. Don’t hesitate to say “no.” Jackie of Money Crush points out that we’re thinking about “no” all wrong. Instead of being reluctant to turn down a purchase, pass up an expensive opportunity, or closely manage your budget, remember that refusal gives you power: For one thing, it gives us serious negotiating clout. And for another, she explains, saying “no” to the things that don’t really matter allows us to focus on the things that do.
14. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” It’s up to you if you want this slogan on a poster, but Reddit user AnnabellBeaverhausen suggests using it when struggling to be frugal. Before spending on something new to supplement or replace something you already own, look at what you currently use with a critical eye: Can you use it up, wear it out, make it work, or simply go without it until you have more cash?