Saving sucks (or why you need a savings habit)

That’s right saving sucks. It ain’t much fun. Compared to its sibling, spending all your money, it’s boring and staid. Nobody goes around saying how much time they’ve spent hanging around with Ms. Saving. No, they love talking about their frolics with Mr. Spend-it-all.

The hard truth

It’s the hard truth that oft forgotten: nobody likes saving.

Sure, it’s good for us. Like eating our greens. But that doesn’t make it easier.

You see it every time there’s a media article about saving money. Spending less than you earn is indisputable common sense. But like the tides, the wave of dismissal always arrives:

“I want to live my life”

“Not spending money, that sounds awful. ”

“What a miserable existence”

The one that takes the biscuit for me recently is the person who writes about personal finance for a living saying: “I spent too much money on handbags but I wanted to live my life.” Great advice there.

I’m a widely read man. I’ve talked to a lot of people. But I have never come across anybody suggesting the meaning of life is handbags. Though perhaps, with a dollop of self-interest, the late Karl Lagerfeld may have been inclined to it. A life of handbags sounds like a life devoid of soul.

The habit loop

That’s because spending money is a habit. We do it without thinking.

We crave the feel of new clothes, the excitement of visiting new places and the warmth of delicious food. We compel ourselves to spend. And reward ourselves with our new shiny toys or anecdotes to regale friends.

Why do we feel this way? Is it a natural thing?

No.

We have been conditioned to feel this way by very smart marketing executives (who happen to be very well paid). They’ve created the rewards (imagined or otherwise) and designed their products to drive our cravings. They haven’t done this out of the kindness of their hearts. They have done it to relieve you of the money in your pockets.

Brushing teeth

Anybody who has ever looked after a young kid will know it can be a pain to get a young’un to brush their teeth. They will fight, strop and plead to avoid it.

But 100 years ago adults weren’t much different. Less than 10% of Americans brushed their teeth. And we didn’t start brushing because it’s good for us.

No, we started because a very smart ad man came up with a gimmick. Brushing your teeth removed the nasty-feeling, but naturally occurring, film on our teeth.

It was good old-fashioned bollocks.

But it worked. And to reward us for brushing our teeth we got a sharp, tingly, minty sensation. Brushing made our mouths feel fresh (and therefore, ‘obviously’ clean).

There’s no scientific basis for why toothpaste is minty or tingly. In fact, toothpaste companies add chemicals in to create those sensations. Those are the sensations we learn to crave. Kids just haven’t been indoctrinated yet.

The savings habit

So if we can indoctrinate ourselves into the habit of brushing our teeth – surely we can do the same with saving?

The answer is: of course. But, you ain’t gonna find big business helping you with that. See money saved means not money spent. That means not buying crap you don’t need and big business making less money out of you.

Breaking a habit is hard. Most of us, myself included, can’t do it. Why is giving up smoking such a bitch? It’s a habit. A deeply ingrained one.

To beat our spending habit and make it a savings one, we have to change it. Transfer it. We need to take the joyful experience that we get from buying stuff and replicate it for saving.

Creating your savings habit

When we are kids we’re always asked: What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you want to be in 10 years time?

As we become adults, we stop getting asked this question. And so we stop asking ourselves where we want to be.

So do it now.

Shut your eyes and imagine where you want to be in 10 years time. Is it in a new job? In a home that you own? With kids? Would you like to be retired? Or financially free to do as you choose? Is it just simply a way of life a philosophy you can live to?

Now let’s make the habit.

Every time you save some money, think of that happy place in the future. Let the pleasure and warmth of that happy feeling wash over you. That is your reward. With every penny you save, reward yourself with that good feeling. The more you save, the more you can allow yourself to revel in the future you are working towards. Each time you save is one step closer to your ideal life.

Over time, you come to crave the feeling of that future. What you truly want in life. Unleashed it is an elephant that tramples on the short-term flirtations of frivolous buys. Handbags just can’t compete with fulfilment.

You start to look forward to saving. Payday is an opportunity to squirrel away towards your golden future, whilst others’ squander it on flash cars and fancy clothes. The end of the month becomes exciting as you watch your nest egg grow from saving and investing. You may even come to relish the start of the new tax year as it means getting more of your money out of the clutches of the tax man.

One of them

Eventually, you too can’t understand why people piss their money away.

Don’t they understand how important it is to save for your future?

You have become “one of them” – the misers.

Don’t you know how miserable saving is!

But you can only smile. Because you know that each penny saved is a small bundle of joy.

All the best,

Young FI Guy

This post is by the book I’m currently reading: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s rather excellent. (*Amazon affiliate link).

9 thoughts on “Saving sucks (or why you need a savings habit)

  1. What is exciting is logging into my Vanguard account to see how much my ISA has increased. I know this won’t happen all of the time, in fact when I first opened it, it went down and stayed that way for a while, but now it’s finally gone up. Every month it feels like Christmas as someone is giving me money for free – at least that is how it feels.

    1. Hi Sam, I know exactly what you mean. Mrs YFG and I both get the same feeling at month end. I love few things more in life than getting money for nothing (my wife is definitely one of those things, in case she’s reading). And that’s how I’ve always chosen to feel about seeing my investment pot rise.

  2. I don’t think saving sucks.
    I’ve been trying to save 10k for the last 3 years. At first, it was exciting as it was coming along okay: as I had the initial target of saving for the 3 months’ target. This was about 6k. I had 2k from before. But it’s been a struggle for the last year and it doesn’t seem that 10k comes any closer. (I know it does.) I’ve done my saving through some frugality. I have held back on buying a ‘newer/updated’ smartphone and computer which, I believe, could have helped through different ways to supplement my income but this target of 10k has been my financial focus. I think some FOMO has created an anxious feeling around to saving 10k. Also my work pays the ‘voluntary minimum’ which I could appreciate if my workplace were not cutting down hours to our minimal hours which is less than regular full time hours.
    For the last 2 years, I had an ISA account and a regular savings account. I’d put the maximum into the regular every month and I would try to save a little amount weekly into the ISA. Once the regular reached the ‘end’, I’d transfer it to the ISA. For this year, as it is so close, I have been just saving into the ISA both a monthly and a weekly amount.

    Once I have saved 10k, I plan to save again for a smartphone and a new computer. I know I’ll have something as backup.

    1. That’s some great work Kal. You’re already doing better than the majority of people after only 3 years!

      FOMO is tough. But I think it’s great that you’ve focused on things that will make a significant positive impact on your life like a new computer and phone. Actively choosing what you spend your money on, like that, is a big part of the battle. Keep up the great work.

  3. I’ve always been frugal but only started investing outside of a pension about 5 or 6 years ago but like you say I got into the habit of putting money away for big purchases and also putting a decent sum into my pension. I’ve allowed my lifestyle to inflate slowly but kept my pension saving rigid and am now adding to it with isas . It does take a long time but for me it’s when you start seeing decent sums ( for me my interest and dividends on non pension amounts) were a 100 a month a couple of years ago and that started to become interesting . Now it’s over 400 and that’s mostly low yield vanguard accounts as I’m investing for growth (little bit of high yield p2p)
    That’s basically all my holidays paid for purely out of passive income or perhaps my monthly food spend. That is significant and is an amazing feeling. Add a 0 to that amount and I’ll be set for life lol.

  4. Hi YFG

    This is something I was going to touch upon in a future post.

    I might look like I’m just breezing through my life with a savings rate of around 40% month in month out but not all of it is habit – there’s still quite a bit of effort required, ie a bit of willpower. Writing my blog helps keep it all under control, which is why I’m almost terrified that at some point, I may get bored of my blog and my plan will almost certainly go off the rails.

  5. I feel lucky to have been raised as a saver. My parents weren’t loaded when I was younger, so I think I’ve learned from a young age to not just blow all my money for the sake of it, and to always have something for emergencies.

    I sometimes think of saving money like a videogame; constantly striving to save for a high score, and once you hit that number, ensuring that you don’t go below it again, and continuing to aim upwards! I can certainly relate to having friends who don’t really understand why I’m saving money at all, so I’ve learned to not bother talking about it. In fact, one of the reasons why I started my own blog was to connect with like minded people.

  6. Hi YFG! Love your blog, I‘ve read most articles from the start.
    Over the last few months, I‘ve conditioned myself to actually find saving fun and spending lots of money at once just a little painful. I‘ve always been reasonably frugal but since finding out about FI, I‘ve definitely stepped it up gradually. Imteresting to see that quality of life is not at all affected by spending less.

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