Why Saving Money Is Hard And How To Boost Your Savings Rates By Up To 73%

You’ve done it again. 

You said you would start to save money after that brand new sneakers yesterday.

And now your shopping bag feels heavier and your wallet feels lighter because that pair of jeans were on sale.

You know you should be saving money because you’re told time and time again that it’s important to save for the future. 

But your behavior just doesn’t seem to match your thoughts—what gives?

You did a google search again and found another list of money saving tips. 

Looking through one after another, it looks like you’ve tried most of them. 

From making a savings plan to budgeting to tracking your expenses—nothing seems to work. 

Now, before you go on and hate yourself, let me assure you that it’s not your fault. 

Because it is human nature to value the present instead of the future. 

And unless you learn the trick to get yourself out of the normal human behavior, it’ll be difficult to kick off the habit of instant gratification. 

Just a little heads up though, we’ll be having some fun with a bit of science.

Because you will need to understand how your brain works and how to get it to be in line with your intentions in order to work towards achieving your goal. 

Don’t worry, I will keep it short and simple so that by the end of this post, you’d be able to explain to your kids too. 

Ready to get started? Let’s get those savings rates up!


The Science Behind Making Decisions

Before we dive down into the reasons why we think it’s hard to save money, let’s look at what happens when we’re making decisions.  

You see two claw machines in front of you; the first containing a stuffed bunny and the second a stuffed bear. 

You want to get one of them because you’ve got just enough money in your pocket for one. You then decide between the bunny and the bear. A minute later, you decided to get the bear. 

You slot the coin into the second machine and get the bear. You feel happy. 

During this process, a part of your brain located at the front called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) lights up or activates. 

It then helps you make the decision and gets you to take action so you could get the reward and feel happy. 

When you’re deciding, two scenarios are playing in your head; one of you getting the bunny, and the other of you getting the bear. 

The vmPFC then compares the “reward value” between the two scenarios and finally concludes that you will feel happier if you get the bear (higher reward value) than if you get the rabbit (lower reward value). 

The result then drives you to select the bear and take action by slotting the coins into the second machine to get the bear. This phenomenon is known as “value-based decision making”. 


Why It’s Hard to Save Money

The reason why it’s hard to save money is because by saving money, you’re actually giving off money for the future you. 

And because you can neither see nor feel the future you, you don’t feel motivated to save money. 

Why is that so? 

Think of your neighbor who just moved in two days ago. 

You had the chance to talk to her yesterday and know about her wish to go on a trip to Vienna. 

Would you save money for her to go on that trip? 

Of course not! Who in the right mind would do that?

But guess what. That’s actually how your brain perceives your future self—a stranger

This is because you’re not emotionally engaged with your future self like how you would have been with a stranger. 

A study conducted by Hershfield and his collaborators documented the “engagement” using fMRI technology. 

They showed that the vmPFC of the brain activates strongly when participants were asked to describe their current selves but less strongly when asked to describe a stranger or their future selves. 

In another study, participants were asked to select the amount of “disgusting drink” to be consumed by their real self, future self, and another participant. 

The author, Emily Pronin, concluded that people treat their future selves like others as the participants selected the smallest amount for their present self and a larger amount for both their future self and others. 


What can you do about this? 

We’ve talked about how the brain lights up when it comes to decision-making. 

So how can you “switch on the lights” in your brain so you can actually take action and start saving money when you have no way to control your brain?

One simple trick: we’ll have to talk your mind into it. 

The human mind operates on a conscious and subconscious level. 

The conscious mind works on your 5 senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. 

This means that it focuses attention on the current and most important elements while filtering the rest. 

The subconscious mind, however, acts as a database that stores all the information obtained from the conscious mind along with your previous experience, memories, and skills. 

Unlike the conscious mind, it doesn’t make value judgments. It also acts as an influencer to your conscious mind to take action based on the information it has. 

With your subconscious mind being a non-judgmental and strong influencer, you can make use of it by convincing your subconscious mind to talk your conscious mind into taking actions that you intend to. In this case—save money. 

According to Brad Klontz, engaging emotionally to a financial goal definitely boosts people’s ability to stash cash. 

In his study on the use of a psychological approach called experiential financial therapy, savings rates soared by as much as 73% when people got emotionally connected with their savings goals. 


How can you achieve it on your own? 

By visualizing your success. 

Yup, it’s true. 

Basically, rather than just naming down your savings goal, you will go further to create a vision board. That means to visualize your goal in detail. 

For example, if your goal is to save for retirement, ask yourself:

  1. What does retirement mean to you?
  2. How old do you see yourself being?
  3. Where do you picture yourself living?
  4. Who are you with?
  5. What do you see yourself doing?
  6. How does it feel? 

When you have the answers, visualize yourself in the position as if you have achieved whatever you have written for your answers. 

Then place it in a conspicuous area where you can see it every day. 

Alternatively, if your goal is to achieve financial independence, get a picture of someone jumping for joy and similarly, visualize yourself in that position as if you’re already financially independent. (As an added effect, you can consider pasting your face to the person in the photo to reinforce the visualization process and emotional connection.) 

While it may seem silly and absurd, this concept was introduced by Napoleon Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich” which was listed in John C. Maxwell’s lifetime “must read” books list as well as in Daymon John’s favorite books list. 

The visualization process involves the law of attraction by which the constant thought of something brings you nearer to it.

While visualization was proven to be able to benefit one’s financial goals, it can also be used as a source of motivation for other types of goals. Whether you’re trying to grow your subscribers on YouTube or trying to solve one of your biggest problems. 

In fact, this method is actually used as a source of motivation by a YouTuber, Elliot Choy who grew his YouTube Channel to have 800k+ subscribers within 2 years.

“I’ll imagine myself achieving the goals that I set. And the most important part of this is—try to feel the emotion that you’ll experience when you achieve your goals. And because I’m leveraging the emotions of my outcome, I’m able to motivate myself. So actually when I write down my goals, I write them in the present tense as if I already achieve them.”

—Elliot Choy


Final Thoughts 


Most people only commit to action when there’s motivation and the feeling of motivation is usually an effect of emotional inspiration. 

With that, the mere thought of saving money will not be enough to elicit an emotional inspiration and therefore, will not provide you with the continuous motivation to save money.

This is often the reason why saving money seems hard. 

So rather than just looking through money saving tips and hacks, it’s time to sit down and think about your financial goals. Then start creating a vision board and establish an emotional connection with your goals. When you do, you will find it less difficult to save money. 

Finally, I’d like to hear from you. 

What are some of the methods you use to motivate yourself to save money? 

Let me know in the comment sections below! 


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About Stephanie Jyet Quan Loo

Founder of stephaniejq.com, a science geek, sports freak, and polyglot. Loves food, books, and snow. Feel free to say hi! 

3 thoughts on “Why Saving Money Is Hard And How To Boost Your Savings Rates By Up To 73%”

  1. Pingback: How to Start Using Financial Goals to Improve your financial health • Stephanie Jyet Quan Loo

  2. Motivation, and then automation. Setting up automatic transfers and forcing yourself to pay… yourself, like you would any other bill, is HUGE. When you automate your investments, you really only need that motivation once–when you set them up. After that it becomes habit! But there is still the matter of finding that motivation in the first place…

    1. Exactly! Following the law of inertia—the difficult part is often to initiate the transition which usually becomes easier as the habit forms. And to overcome that difficulty, we’ll need a solid reason to serve as a motivation to make that change. Hence, the importance of financial goals.

      Great point! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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