Save for a sunny day: The power of positive savings

Only 30% of Canadians have enough money in the bank to cover three months of living expenses, and yet when it comes to a little late-night online shopping we’re always ready with a credit card at our fingertips. Why is it so hard to focus our money where it matters most? We’ll show you how shifting the way you save and what you’re saving for can help you reach your goals faster than ever (and have more fun doing it).

Set better goals

From professional KPIs to New Year’s Resolutions to a beach body by summertime, goals are meant to help us stay focused on what matters most. Research shows that setting and achieving goals can significantly increase your self-esteem and improve your overall mental health. Sometimes, though, if goals are unrealistic or too vague, they can have the opposite effect - setting us up for disappointment and leading to self-criticism or a perpetual sense of failure.

When it comes to personal finance, goal-setting can either be an effective motivator or a hamster wheel of frustration, so take your time and set yourself up for success. Here are three ways to make goals a positive part of financial planning:

  1. Set challenging but achievable goals. When it comes to setting goals, separate your big dreams from what’s realistically achievable in the time you have to work with. If your savings goal is unrealistic from the start, any progress you make can seem insignificant, making it easy to de-prioritize it or simply give up. This doesn’t mean you can’t dream big - you should - but when it comes to setting goals, start with achievable milestones that are realistic for your lifestyle and timeline.
  2. Understand how to reach them. Think of goals as being like building furniture: You can’t get to the finish line without the right tools, and probably some help from your neighbour down the hall. To really be effective, goals need an action plan with specific steps to achieve them, and an understanding of what resources will be required. If your goal is to save an extra $250 a month, where will that come from? Can you give up a meal kit subscription or say goodbye to your landline, or do you have enough discretionary income to simply set up an auto-withdrawal from your account? For each goal you set, outline specific activities to help you stay on track.
  3. Write it down. There’s a science behind why writing your goals down makes it more likely that you’ll achieve them, and it has to do with what happens in your brain when you write something down versus simply trying to keep it in your memory. Neuropsychologists cite the ‘generation effect,’ which says that your brain will be more likely to remember material it has generated itself. When you’re ready with your savings goals, make sure you make them likely to stick by keeping a permanent record.

Keep It Out Of Sight

Richard Thaler, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioural economics, is famous for an anecdote about a dinner party he hosted where his guests devoured a bowl of cashews prior to the main course, for the simple reason that they were there. By moving the bowl to the kitchen, he removed temptation, thus saving their appetites and the extra calories.

Short-termism and weak willpower are common challengers to a successful savings program, so it makes sense that one simple way to help yourself is to remove as much temptation as you possibly can. To be more effective at saving money, stay out of your own way. Here are three ways to help keep your money safely out of sight:

  1. Set up auto-withdrawals. The easiest way to save money is to make it harder not to. Setting up daily, weekly, or monthly auto-withdrawals will remove any temptation to spend that money somewhere else. If you don’t have to make a choice, you can’t make the wrong one. You can set it and forget it, but you’ll feel good knowing you’re doing something to boost your balance without even trying.
  2. Keep it in a separate account. Limit access to your savings by keeping them in a separate account, one you don’t see on a regular basis. Increasing the number of barriers to your savings will help reduce the temptation to access them out of turn.
  3. Timed Reports. Whether you’re saving for a goal or building better savings habits, it can be tempting to track your progress day by day. But saving money takes time and patience, and you likely won’t see results as fast as you’d like. Tracking your progress too closely can lead to frustration and a sense of pointlessness, making it tempting to spend your money somewhere more satisfying. But slow and steady wins the race, and if you resist the temptation to check your progress frequently, you’ll be likely to have a more positive experience when you do. Set up quarterly or monthly reports, or limit your balance checking to bi-weekly or less. This is one instance when delayed gratification is definitely worth the wait.

Reward Progress

Saving money can feel like a grind, but adding an ongoing rewards structure can increase the odds of success and help you enjoy the ride. While goal-setting itself is a form of long-term or delayed rewards, research shows that people receiving immediate rewards during an activity pursuit are more likely to persist.

Rewarding small victories and engaging in ongoing milestone challenges can help you stay more in the present with your goals, keeping them top of mind and increasing the likeliness that you’ll stay committed. They can also help offset some of the opportunity costs that come from pursuing a goal in the long term.

While it’s true that money (especially thinking that you don’t have enough of it) is almost universally cited as one of the leading causes of stress, if we shift towards a more appreciative outlook with gratitude for the benefits, opportunities and options our money provides us today, we’re more likely to enjoy a positive relationship with our finances, and look at the bright side of saving more of it. After all, whether you save one dollar or a thousand, you’ll be better off than you were yesterday.

Amanda Ashford is a Brand & Communications consultant building brands with purpose and using business as a force for good. As a global traveller, Amanda is constantly inspired by the sounds, scenes and stories found around the world, and our shared passion for purpose that connects us all.

Amanda Ashford is a paid Sonnet spokesperson.
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