A lot of you guys are asking about how to stay on track with your savings, and that is a fantastic topic for a post. Thanks readers!
The real trick to hitting your savings goals is consistency and being realistic. You may have seen our posts with attention grabbing titles about how much you can save in a short time, and you can, but you work up to that level.
What we’re going to look at today are some practical actionable ways to stay on track with your savings and how to motivate yourself to hit your savings goals.
A quick note on mindset
A complaint I often hear from people is this; “where’s the actual advice?! All I hear is about how to think differently, what am I supposed to do differently?” It’s such a powerful question that has a kinda lame answer…
The answer is momentum.
Imagine you’re pushing a heavy stone sphere. You initially have to use a lot of energy to get the stone moving, but once it’s moving it gets much easier and eventually you’ll have a hard time stopping it.
Changing your mindset about money is the initial effort you need to put into becoming wealthy. Once you change the way you think about money, things get a whole lot easier. It’s so difficult for a lot of people to change their mindset because of their spending habits.
The thing about habits is that they take time, energy, and commitment to break. Once you break your spending habits and change your mindset you start the ball rolling and it eventually becomes impossible for you not to be wealthy.
Visualise your savings goal
You know when you have a charity event and they give you a thermometer with various denominations on it? The reason it’s there is to get people to give more.
Once we see something filling up, there is something in our psychology that needs it to reach the top.
Start doing something similar.
Say you’ve looked at your budget, and you’ve determined that you can currently save £25 a week, and you want to save £2,000. Divide your savings goal by the amount you can save each week, which in this case is 2,000/25, this gives you 80.
Create a thermometer with 80 white blocks on it, with a picture of what it is the £2,000 will get you at the top. Also, set mini-rewards for yourself at various other denominations (personally I like the 10 per cent, 25 per cent and 50 per cent marks), to give you more of an incentive.
As you deposit £25 into your savings account each week, colour in one of the blocks. If you save more, fill in more blocks.
This shows you how much progress you’ve already made, and holds you accountable for your savings goal. If you miss a week, you’ll be staring at that failure in the face every time you see your savings chart.
Show off your savings high score
If you’re following my £2 saving strategy template, you’ll know that you have good weeks and bad weeks.
Some weeks you’ll be able to save double what you thought you would and sometimes you just can’t due to costs you couldn’t plan for. With that said, displaying your best “score” is a great motivator.
For example, my weekly living costs are around £90. I’ve achieved this through changing my eating habits (cooking, and making lunch for myself), not drinking in the week, and riding a bike instead of using public transport (I also currently live in Korea which has a lower cost of living).
Last November there was a week in which I spent *drumroll* £46! That meant that I saved an extra £44 on top of the savings I’d already budgeted for. Trying to beat that score is (and this is perhaps a little sad) a dream of mine, that I’ve yet to accomplish.
However last week, I managed to not spend any money from Monday to Wednesday. It all went wrong because it was a friend’s birthday that weekend. But, from Monday to Friday I found that the possibility that I could beat my record kept my wallet in my pocket, and made me ask one of the best questions you can ask yourself when saving; “Do I really need that?”
For anyone who likes testing your mettle this is a great technique; put yourself in a financial situation you don’t think you can afford. Now I’m not talking about a high stakes poker game, or putting your life savings on Red.
I’m talking about testing your ingenuity, cunning, and guile by purposefully putting more into your savings account than you think you can manage. One of the ways I managed to get my weekly cost of living down so low was that I intentionally shot myself in the financial foot.
When I first got to Korea, I was spending £150 a week on living… and then I looked at my savings goal. I wasn’t going to hit it unless I drastically changed something. So with my next month’s paycheck, I sent more money than I was comfortable sending home, basically cutting my budget down by 25 per cent.
I’ll admit that the jump from £150 to £112.5 was pretty difficult, but it pushed me to find cheaper things to enjoy, live more cleanly, and buy less shit.
By pushing myself, I realised that having a solid savings base made me far happier than eating at McDonalds and Subway. I enjoyed riding my bike far more than sitting on the bus. Sitting outside in the sun drinking beers at a convenience shop is so much more pleasurable than drinking in a bar.
I also showed myself what was possible. If you’d asked me six months ago if I could be happy spending £90 a week, I would’ve scoffed and given you a “you-must-be-crazy” look.
Don’t make “saving money” the goal
Money is only as good as what you spend it on. It’s a tool. Having a lot of money is pointless unless you spend it on worthwhile things.
When I was first started saving properly I would think about the numbers… and wondered what the point was. “What’s the point in saving for a rainy day when I could be having fun now?” I thought to myself, and bought another round of beers.
Then I thought about the reason why I was (initially) saving.
It was security. It was safety. It was for my piece of mind.
I started thinking about how each £1 I put into my savings account was another brick in my financial castle, that would allow me to weather the storms life sends our way.
I’ve since completed my financial security goal, and now I’m saving up for a three month trip around South East Asia (and thinking about ways to get paid doing it).
I don’t think about it as money, now I think about it as miles, or experiences. When I put money into my trip fund, I think about it as “there’s a week’s accommodation in Indonesia.” “I’ve just paid for all the delicious food I’m going to eat in Vietnam,” and “there’s half a train journey through Malaysia.”
Focus on the purpose of the money and you’re motivation to save it will increase as you stash that cash away.
The journey is as important as the destination
Saving is a skill, it requires practice to get good at it. Saving can be super tricky when you start and you will make mistakes.
As you’re developing this skill, don’t be too hard on yourself when you screw up. Look at what you did wrong and take steps to avoid that in the future. You’re first six months saving will teach you a lot about your values, your life philosophy, and highlight your financial weaknesses.
For me, I’ve realised that my biggest expense is going out drinking bar none (badumtish). If I quit drinking I could legitimately reduce my living costs by a further 50 per cent, and that’s not a guess I’ve got the numbers in front of me.
After all the other things I’ve cut down on, my biggest financial weakness is when someone says “want to go for a beer?”
There’s a saying in the fitness world: “Stopping going to the gym because you missed a workout is like slashing the rest of your tires because you got a puncture.”
Bad things that may or may not have been your fault happen. The time you learn the most and progress furthest is when you deal with the problem and move forward regardless.
How do you stay on track with saving? You just stay on track with saving (and hello to Jason Isaacs).
To return to the point about mindset we discussed at the beginning. The reason why saving is so difficult is because you’re forcing your mind to work in a different way, and that is uncomfortable, and difficult, and frustrating. But often it’s the toughest stuff that is the most rewarding.
Savings 101 cheat sheet
So there you have some basic practical techniques to stay on track with your savings. As you progress through your journey you’ll find you won’t need to use these techniques as much. If ever you hit a hiccup, return to these techniques to help you out.
Here they are again:
- Physically create something that charts your progress: Make a chart that you can interact with that visually shows you how much you’ve currently saved and how close you are to hitting your goal
- Turn it into a game: Set high scores for yourself to beat; say you spend £15 on coffee this week, next week see how much you can beat that record. Similarly, write a reminder on your fridge of the lowest you’ve managed to live on for a week
- Push yourself further than your comfortable with: Humans became the dominant species because we were the best at adapting to changes in our environment. Get out of your comfort zone and put more into your savings (it’s not like you’re wasting it anyway)
- Focus on what the money actually is: Money is just a tool, if you learn to love money you’ll become a greedy miser. Think about what you’re going to use the money for, that is the reason you save. Even if it’s just a fancy coat, look at each £1 saved as a piece of fabric, or a zip
- Mistakes make the journey: When you first begin saving, you’re practicing. You’re seeing what works for you. You’ll screw up, you’ll make mistakes, you’ll feel disappointed in yourself, but that’s only because you haven’t done this before. Every mistake you make brings you closer to mastering the skill
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Here are some more articles to help you save:
- Trick yourself into becoming a money magnet
- 7 techniques that will dramatically increase your saving
- 5 things you should be spending more money on (and how to do them for free)