You meant to put a small deposit into your savings account. But your dear friend unexpectedly came into town. You didn’t want to miss out on catching up even though it meant spending more on a meal than you intended. Savings can wait until next month, you think — when you might even make more money.
The problem for too many of us is that the wait never ends. In a recent Bankrate survey, only 40 percent of those surveyed said that they would use their savings to pay a surprise $1,000 expense. For some Americans, we’re adding nothing into our savings whatsoever.
We struggle to save for all kinds of reasons. There are the quite serious ones, like losing a job or declaring a bankruptcy. Maybe you’re trying to pay down your credit cards or keep from revolving a balance. And there are more casual ones, like overspending from FOMO spending pressures. For the latter, what follows are several ideas meant to help you keep saving even when you prefer to spend in the moment.
Get in front of FOMO pressure
Nowadays there’s even more pressure for us to spend instead of save — social media feeds show us how everyone else is spending on experiences and more.
“It’s easy to look at someone else’s Instagram and say, ‘That life looks so good. I wish I could go to Bali’ or whatever it is,” says Lindsay Holden, chief executive and co-founder of Long Game, a gamified personal finance app.
But as Holden sees it, spending pressure caused by FOMO is just another reason to get into the habit of savings. “[It’s] the way that you end up getting to do all the things you want to do because you’re not reliant on the money that is currently coming in,” she says.
If there’s not much parked in your savings or if your checking account balance is low, getting started probably feels overwhelming at best. So, one of the first steps is to recognize that it will feel bad, but to start anyway. “Understand that there is a cognitive hurdle that you have to get over,” Holden says.
Set your savings on auto-pilot
If you get a steady paycheck, automate transfers from your checking into your savings accounts. In so doing, you will free yourself from having to decide how much to put away every other week or every month or to remember to do it at all. Instead, the habit of savings just happens, says Stephan Meier, James P. Gorman professor of business strategy at Columbia Business School. “So, if there is any temptation to not save in a particular moment, that is kind of out of your decision set,” Meier says.
Strategies for a volatile income
There is a big caveat for those with volatile income, however: Automating your savings could result in accidental overdraft fees. But the good news is there are other strategies to deploy, including considering setting up savings peer groups.
There’s evidence that it will help you save more. In studying low-income entrepreneurs in Chile, Meier and fellow researchers from a Columbia Business School unit found that support groups who met in person and talked about savings drove their savings deposits to almost double that of the control group.
Or, consider setting up automated reminders to save. At a later time in Chile, the researchers also studied the effect text messaging had on savings: The group who received regular text message reminders saved more than those who did not.
Download a fintech app to help motivate you
Traditional bank accounts may not inspire you to save. But a number of digital tools that can help you — Qapital, Blast, Digit, Status Money and Long Game among them. The startups’ approaches vary but they all aim to ease you into a savings habit.
For instance, you will have a chance to play games on Long Game — and win cash prizes up to $1 million — after putting money into your savings account. Your deposits, meanwhile, are held at the startup’s partner bank, Blue Ridge Bank in Virginia. The idea is to make savings feel fun. “Things don’t have to be super serious,” Holden says. “It can be an experience that you enjoy.”
Status Money, for another, is designed to make peer pressure work for you in a positive way: It will show you how your spending compares to your peers to help you understand what is normal and what is possible. There’s evidence that it will motivate you to reduce your spending. In a study that looked at what happened after Status Money’s users found out they overspent compared with their peers, researchers found users reduced their spending by $600 a month.
“We didn’t expect it to be that strong,” says Majd Maksad, founder and chief executive of Status Money. “It doesn’t necessarily stop you from splurging occasionally. But by and large, on the whole, it does have a significant effect overall.”
Another way Status Money tries to motivate you is to give you cash rewards for acting on opportunities that are meant to help you improve your finances. Already, the data shows it has been an effective motivator — the rates of people taking the recommendations that the app provides has increased more than 400 percent within about six weeks after launching. “It’s a massive motivator for change,” Maksad says.
Realize there will be ups and downs — accept it
Patrick Smith, head of financial wellness at KeyBank, encourages you to start saving early, and to start small. But expect to fall off the wagon from time to time because of that meal you couldn’t afford but bought anyway.
“That’s okay, that’s life,” Smith says. “The main thing is to continue to get back on track.”