Photography by David Wile Image by: Photography by David Wile
She knows, however, that not everyone has the innate ability to put money aside for the future.Vaz-Oxlade refers to a decades-old study as proof: A team of psychologists presented preschoolers each with one marshmallow and the choice of either eating it right away or waiting until the researcher returned to the room and receiving a second marshmallow. Scientists tracked down the kids years later. "The children who could defer long enough to get the second marshmallow were phenomenally more successful at life because they could delay their gratification," says Vaz-Oxlade. "That's a distinguishing factor in terms of people's willingness to manage their money." For those lacking a natural inclination to squirrel away money, don't despair—you're not doomed to a life of debt and poor financial planning. Here's how you can reshape your thinking and become a skilled saver.
Define "savings" the right way
We're bombarded with promises of savings through coupons, sales and discount retailers, but that's not saving at all. "You're reducing costs, but you're not saving," says Vaz-Oxlade. To become savers, we have to know what the term means. Buying anything—even if it's on sale—is spending. "Saving is the act of setting money aside for some later date, for a specific longterm purpose," she says. "If you're setting aside money for a new TV, that's not saving—that's planned spending." Real saving, according to Vaz-Oxlade, is more akin to investing in yourself—putting away money for retirement, education or emergencies. She says we need to treat our savings more like investments, so we should put our money into safe places that pay a decent return, such as higher-interest savings accounts.
Come to terms with what you really want
For spenders to change their ways and learn to accept the delayed gratification of long-term saving, they need to figure out what they actually want, says Vaz-Oxlade. Many people say they want a new home, but when she asks if they're willing to give up a few years' worth of vacations to get it, she learns that they have other priorities. "That's OK," she says. "It's your money. You get to spend it any way you want, but at least be true to yourself." Knowing what you really want will help you work for it. "Until buying a house or going back to school becomes so important to you that you're willing to give up other stuff to have it, you don't really want it," says Vaz-Oxlade.
When you spend, spend consciously
"We drive unconsciously, we work unconsciously, we live our lives unconsciously—and that includes shopping," says Vaz-Oxlade. To become a saver instead of a spender, the key is being more aware of why you spend. "People are often motivated by emotion," she says. "If you're sad or angry and you 'need' to go shopping, then find a way to steer your shopping toward something productive." For Vaz-Oxlade, that can be buying groceries. "When we spend money, our brains release endorphins that give us a high," says Vaz-Oxlade. But that high isn't always healthy. To temper it, she recommends
switching from credit cards to cash. "When we pay with cash, we have the offsetting pain of parting with the cash," she explains. That can be enough to deter many of us from outspending our budgets.
Appreciate what you already have
Vaz-Oxlade is a big believer in judging yourself based on how you live, not on how much money you have—but it can be difficult to disengage from consumerism. "Our lives are focused on what we don't have," she says. "We think, I don't have a new coat this year—I have five coats, but I don't have a new coat this year. We're always looking to fill the have-not holes." To reset the mentality that we're always missing something, she suggests taking inventory of what we already have. "Then we're starting from a perspective of, 'Look at my abundance. Look at the joy that I have already in my life.'"
Three killer tips for how to really save money:
1. Do a spending analysis
Record what you spend, and where, each month before you even start to make a budget. This keeps you honest about what you typically spend, so you don't underestimate the cost of necessities, such as groceries, and set yourself up to fail.
2. Make saving a routine
Saving is an active pursuit; don't passively wait to see what you have left at the end of the month. Plan how much money you want or need to save a year (keeping in mind tip #1), divide that by 12, then plan to put that amount away each month.
3. Make a budget
None of us can mentally keep a running tally of what we've earned and spent, so it's important to write down how much you can afford to spend per month in each area of your life (food, shelter, entertainment, travel, savings, etc.). Then keep track of your actual expenditures to ensure that they don't exceed what you've planned.
Do you love to shop and want to save money doing so? Check out our 10 ways to save money when you shop, staring Gail Vaz-Oxlade!