Why saving money is hard — and how you can get better at it.
True
AICPA + Ad Council

If you're like most people, you probably know it's hard to save money. Really hard. But do you know why?

Sure, we all know that one person who is really good at managing money and seems to have this whole saving thing figured out. But for the rest of us, storing all those "acorns" away for the winter is just tough. We all know it's important, but where — and how — do we even start?

First, know that you're not alone: Research shows that a lot of Americans don't have much in savings. One survey of about 5,700 people released by the Federal Reserve found that 46% of adults could not cover an emergency expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing money.


Image via iStock.

There are a number of reasons why getting in the habit of saving is challenging.

One reason stems from our scarcity of attention, wrote Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at Harvard University in an article on CNN Money. We are more likely to prioritize our immediate needs (say, a new phone) over our future needs (such as our retirement).

This is similar to why we procrastinate in general. According to psychologists, we see our future selves as strangers. While we inevitably become them, the people who we will be in a few months (or decades) are unknown to us, so we do not always make good choices for our futures.

A second reason is that we tend to forget what it felt like during conditions of scarcity. So, maybe you used to survive on a smaller salary, but now that you are getting paid more, you are likely to also increase your spending along with it to buy more (or better) things.

Image via iStock.

Technology has also made it easier for people to spend more money. Paying for services or items is quick and easy today, especially as we move toward becoming a cashless society.

And on top of all this, there is peer pressure that can be applied via social media, said Sean Stein Smith, a CPA, CGMA, and assistant professor at Rutgers University-Camden. "Seeing pictures of celebrities, family, and friends posting their newest purchases during their most recent vacation can be a tremendously difficult hurdle to overcome," he explained.

So what can we do to become better savers? Here are few helpful tips and tricks to get you into the habit of saving:

1. Stick to a realistic budget and pay yourself — i.e., your savings account — first.

Image via iStock.

"In order to accomplish any goal, whether it is running a marathon or setting up a savings plan for yourself, you need to have a plan in place," says Smith, who is also a member of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. To do this, you need to take the time to know where your money is going and how much you can afford to save.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so it's important to make a realistic budget that includes all your bills and expenses. And budget your savings just like it’s any other bill that you are paying so that you're always contributing something to that savings account.

2. Make your savings payments automatic.

The same technologies that make spending so easy can make saving easy too. Try to automate the process as much as possible by setting up automatic payments on payday so that a chunk of every paycheck goes straight into your savings account and you don’t even have to think about it.

"It’s like jumping into a pool: You have to steel yourself to do it once, and you can benefit going forward," wrote Mullainathan, the Harvard economics professor.

3. Remind yourself what it’s like to be broke.

Since we forget what scarcity feels like as soon as we’re not experiencing it, one helpful thing can be to remind yourself of what it feels like to be broke when you do have money. FutureMe.org lets you write an email to yourself to be delivered later — on payday, for instance, when you'll forget how it felt to scrounge change together for groceries.

4. Take the 52-week money challenge.

Sometimes just getting started is hard, so why not take this 52-week money challenge to get yourself in the habit of saving? The challenge works like this: on week one, save just $1, then on week two, save $2, and on week three, save $3, and so on until you reach week 52, where you save $52. This incremental savings plan starts small, but it can add up to a big difference — you will save $1,378 in just one year.

Worried you won’t stick to the plan? Try the plan in reverse and start by saving $52 on week one so that you have no excuse on week 52 to not put that $1 in there.

5. Make a goal and stick to it, and celebrate milestones.

Image via iStock.

It’s important to have an emergency fund, but there are a lot of other things you can save for too. So while it's probably best to try to let your savings grow for a while (and keep withdrawals to a minimum), it's good to set smaller, more immediate, goals as well that allow you to reward yourself along the way with fun things, like that dream vacation you have always wanted.

Want to make sure your savings plan is realistic and well thought-out? Try the four-week financial fitness challenge.

6. Save your windfalls.

Did you get a larger-than-usual tax refund or an annual bonus this year? As tempting as it can be to rush out and spend it now, put that extra money into savings. You won’t miss the money, and it will get you closer to your savings goals.

7. Keep the cash back for your savings account.

Does your credit card or bank offer you cash back for certain purchases? Make sure to transfer those extra dollars right into your savings account.

8. Save your change.

Image via iStock.

Small amounts of money can go a long way too. Do you have a bunch of change rattling around in your wallet? Why not collect all those coins in an old-school piggy bank? When it is full, you can exchange the coins at your local bank or supermarket for cash that can easily be deposited into a savings account. It might not seem like much, but over the course of the year, those loose pennies can really add up.

Some banks also offer "keep the change" programs to automatically round up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference into your savings account.

9. Increase your savings contributions when and where you can.

Get a raise? Or did you finally pay off your mortgage or a credit card? Be sure to increase your savings contribution before you start spending to reflect your pay increase or extra money in the budget. It will help you get one step closer to your savings goals.

Image via iStock.

10. Get a budget buddy.

"Planning, automation, and sticking with it — think of it like a workout regime — are the 'secret sauce' to savings success," says Smith. And a great way to stick with it is to find someone, like your husband, wife, or partner, to help motivate you.

"[This is] someone that is on the same path as you that can keep you motivated, engaged, and committed when you are tempted to start slacking," he says.

For some of us, saving isn’t easy, but thankfully there are a lot of ways to trick yourself into getting better at it.

And once you develop the habit and start meeting your goals, your future self will thank you.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less