You already know the common strategies for saving money: Automatically set aside a portion of your paycheck, stick to a budget, plan your purchases, and so on. But there are also simple (if surprising) psychology tricks that can help us save even more. Here are ten such mind hacks.
10. Visualize What You’ll Look Like When You’re Older to Save More for Retirement
Many of us aren’t saving enough for retirement, perhaps because we think of it as so far away. Research, however, shows that one really simple way to help us reach our retirement goals is to picture our lives or what we might look like years or decades from now when we’re retired.
9. Create a Sleeve for Your Credit Card with a Picture of Your Financial Goal
Similar to putting a motivational photo on your fridge if you’re dieting or above your desk if you want to be more productive, this trick from the Simple Dollar can remind you of the bigger money goals you have every time you reach for a credit card to pay for a trivial purchase.
8. Chew Mint Gum and Wear Headphones While Shopping
What do gum and headphones have to do with shopping or saving money? It’s all about the ways stores manipulate your senses to trick you into buying more. Chewing mint gum could counteract the ambient scents in stores and make you feel fuller so you don’t buy food impulsively, and wearing headphones could block out the music designed to make you stay in the store longer. By knowing how stores try to seduce you while you’re shopping, you can defend yourself from their tricks.
7. Price Items Based on How Many Hours You’d Need to Work to Pay for It
You know what will really put a damper in unnecessary spending? Thinking about how much that item really costs in terms of hours you’d need to work to pay for it. $90 for a pair of jeans?! That’s more than 12 hours of work at the $7.25 minimum wage. (Even if you’re paid twice that, still more than half a day of work.)
6. Override Your Bad Money Behavior with a New Mantra
Set up rules of thumb—or heuristics—that describe the way you want to treat your money and over time it could become second nature. For example, “I only buy clothes when they’re on sale” versus “I deserve to treat myself whenever I get a windfall.” No, you don’t have to repeat the mantra over and over (maybe just change your password to it temporarily), but if you adopt it, the mantra could trick your brain into overcoming bad money habits.
5. Instead of Trying to Save More Money Now, Commit to Saving More in the Future
It sounds counterintuitive to save more money by not saving more money, but it’s all about the timing. Research suggests that starting a program where you’re steadily increasing the amount you save could be more effective than making an effort to save a lot more now. For example, making a plan to save most of your next raise rather than trying to cut back now. (Of course, you should then stick to that plan.)
4. Change the Way You Use Certain Dollar Denominations
There’s nothing inherently different between a fifty dollar bill and some tens and fives, but psychologically, we might be more reluctant to break the larger bill. You might even be more prone to hold onto $2 bills, since they’re seen as scarce (but really aren’t). And, like the jars of spare coins that get filled daily and turn into a couple of hundred dollars at the end of the year, saving every $5 bill that comes into your possession can turn into significant savings, almost painlessly.
3. Curb Impulsive Spending with a Few Tricks
You can’t always rely on self-control to avoid temptation, which is always around us. You can, however, make it harder for you to push the buy button or swipe the credit card without thinking first. For example, don’t store your credit card information with online stores or autofill data, train yourself to always ask before buying anything if you’d rather have the cash if a stranger offered it to you, stick to the 30-day rule to make sure you really want something, or use a prepaid debit card to force yourself to ponder your limited resources.
2. Make Saving Money Fun
Saving? Fun? That’s where gamification comes in. Tools like SaveUp and SmartyPig turn saving money a kind of challenge where you can watch the your money grow (and reap other rewards). Or you could join a challenge like the 52 Week Money Challenge or similar to push yourself to save more (and even enjoy it).
1. Understand Your Brain’s Biases
Finally, the more you know about how your own brain may be sabotaging your shopping choices, the better you can take back control and overcome your brain’s mushy mental accounting.