Why saving money feels so hard


Published on

Holidays are amazing. I personally love the beach and find myself each Christmas drawn to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Early morning walks around the headland, swimming with my sons every morning, saunters along the sandy inlets with the water lapping over my feet - it's everything my mind, body and spirit need.

After a week or so in this state of bliss, most people find themselves magnetically drawn to the real estate agent's window, musing about a life where work and this feeling of peace and freedom can co-exist.

why is it so hard to save money

The inevitable return to work quickly relegates these thoughts to the mental filing cabinet drawer titled "delusional fantasies" as the everyday stresses and challenges consume our attention.

However, after a few years of repeating the holiday experience, the idea becomes harder to disregard, the thought noodle refuses to go away, nagging and prompting you to stop "working for the system" and be more in control of how you spend your remaining time on the planet.

There is one big problem though. Money. To enable this change, you need a level of financial independence, but how can you possibly save more than you already are?

In my experience, "How can I save more money?" is the most common question that motivates people to organise their personal finances.

This has increased in recent years as people realise they need to do more than simply reach financial goals, such as paying off debt; they also need to build emergency funds for uncertain times or better fund their retirement once they realise they're going to live much longer than they first thought.

It's a big question to which the answer is a golden rule that is painfully simple, and I mean both of those words - simple in concept, painful to execute - which is why a lot of us don't do what needs to be done.

Earn more, spend less, automate everything. Three elements that sound so elementary, but are somewhat aggravating when broken down into actions that will make a difference.

Our brain is hard-wired to resist anything that is painful, so to put a good plan into action means we need to overcome our pleasure-seeking instincts, creating a mindset of wealth building rather than of consumption and instant gratification.

Of course, we're not talking about turning ourselves into Scrooges, where every dollar is obsessed over and relationships become secondary to wealth, but a little more care and attention wouldn't go astray for many of us.

Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes.

1. Earn more (without increasing your expenses)

This seems obvious, but most people are so afraid of change they persist in jobs that underpay and undervalue them.

When you do get a pay bump, resist the urge to procure more lavish things. If you're surviving just fine now, that doesn't need to change.

2. Spend less

In our consumption-led culture, there is a lot we spend money on that we can do without: cutting back on dining out, cancelling subscriptions you don't use, letting the grocery discounts guide what you cook, and buying generic products instead of brand-name items.

If you struggle to cut back, ask why? Why does it make you feel good to have these things? Find other ways to fulfil these needs that don't hurt your wallet.

3. Automate your savings

The less you have to think about it, the more likely you are to do it. Set up automatic transfers to break up your wages into sub-accounts that are gazetted for expenses or savings. This reduces the administrative burden and performs a simple mind trick.

Say you get paid $5000 a month and you split it into seven sub-accounts, each receiving around $700.

On payday, you see a sale and a $600 suit is calling your name. Spending $600 from a sub-account with only $700 feels more painful than spending $600 out of $5000, so you're less likely to do it.

Get stories like this in our newsletters.

Related Stories

Phil Slade is a behavioural economist and psychologist and the author of Going Ape S#!t! and founder of Decida. He works across digital innovation, strategy and cognitive bias. Phil holds a Bachelor of Psychology from The University of Queensland and a Master of Organisational Psychology from Griffith University.