The training starts when we are very young. There is no class, no teacher, and no textbook. There is no exam, but we all get an “A.” We practice and practice until we are experts. What is it, you say? It’s spending money.
From the time that you are first placed in the grocery cart seat, you begin to realize that there is a seemingly infinite supply of wonderful goodies to consume. At first, the only cost is a little begging and whining to get some of these delights. As you get older, you make the connection between those metal coins and green pieces of paper and your desired treats and toys. Money has no value other than the pleasure that it brings through what we can purchase. The training has only just begun.
Every day of your life, you will be exposed to an estimated 3,000 advertising messages that communicate how great you will feel if only you would exchange some of your money for a certain product or service. There is no place to escape this phase of the training. It follows you to the gas pump, the movie theater, the computer, and even the washroom stall. Your brain has been trained.
The benefits of spending money are tangible and immediate. We immediately experience flavors, fun, and the envy of our neighbors. Big spenders are a lot of fun to be with. No wonder one-half of American households have accumulated less than $1,000 in net financial savings.1 We are trained to spend, not to save.
Imagine a world where you come home from the used car dealership. You just paid cash for a sensible, low priced used vehicle filled with the sweet sounds of AM radio. All of your friends pat you on the back and say things like “What’s the cost per mile on this baby?” and “Did you get a Roth Individual Retirement Account (Roth IRA) with the money you saved?” or “How did you find a great car without costly options?” Everyone is envious of the person with the most cost-efficient mode of transportation. They know that you must be packing a huge investment account. Sorry, this is not going to happen. You must retrain your brain.
First, surround yourself with messages about the benefits of saving. Place phrases and pictures in places where you will see them throughout the day. Some phrases, such as “Pay yourself first,” “Stop making everyone else wealthy,” or “A penny saved is a penny earned” will help remind you of your new commitment to savings and will balance out those spending messages. Also, make your retirement tangible by writing a detailed description of what life will be like in retirement. Dream big and include your ideal retirement activities. Find pictures of retirees enjoying these activities and place them around the house and at work. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about your ideal retirement and how it will feel to enjoy it.
Second, develop your savings goals. You should have both short-term and long-term goals. From there, you can put together a strategy on how to reach those goals. Don’t stop there. You want to know how much you must save per month, week, and day in order to get there. By knowing your daily and weekly savings needs, you can make good spending decisions throughout the day with your goals in mind. Place a reminder in your wallet or purse so that your saving needs become part of every spending decision.
Once you have decided to “retrain your brain” and get serious about saving, consider working with a financial planner. They will help you develop the savings goals and a strategy. Also, an experienced professional will share ideas on what has helped other clients successfully implement a savings plan. Meet regularly so that you stay on track.
FPA member A. Christopher Engle, LUTCF, CFP®, ChFC® is a partner with Argus Financial Consultants in Grand Rapids, MI.
Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. The opinions voiced in this material are for information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.