The Real Reason You’re Not Saving More Money

Sure, we all want to save more money, but it can be really difficult. It seems like we get paid one day, and the money’s almost gone the next.

I’m here to tell you that the reason you’re not saving more money isn’t because you don’t make enough. And it’s not because you don’t understand money or budgeting. There’s nothing wrong with you. Here’s the deal:

You’re not saving for something specific.

Huh? You probably think that you ARE saving for something specific.

You’re saving for a house, a car, a vacation in Italy, those killer heels, an iPhone, Kindle books, your cousin’s wedding, your wedding, a spa day, a diamond collar for your dog, your friend’s birthday bash, a new wardrobe, a trip to the moon…

But that’s the problem. You’re not saving for something; you’re saving for everything.

If you have a long list of things you want to buy, your subconscious mind thinks you’ll need an astronomical sum of money. Really, add up the total cost all your wants. It’s probably tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When our minds are scattered on too many things, we’ll never feel like we’re making any progress with our savings. You’ll start to think that buying a latte doesn’t matter because it’s only $5. You’ll think that an armload of thrift store bargains is a good deal because it’s only $30.

I know you’ve heard it before, but those little purchases add up…and they’re preventing you from setting and reaching a savings goal.

Before we continue, I want to point out that the following steps should be used after you’ve already established automatic savings for your retirement. However you choose to do it (401K, IRA), just get it set up so you can stop worrying about it. Ready? Let’s move on.

Here are some steps to get you to start (and continue) saving money.

Choose a very specific goal.

I know you have a million goals, but to get you into a savings mindset just start with 1 goal. For example, let’s say you want to go to New York City. Think about the time of year, where you’ll stay, what attractions you’ll visit, and what it will feel like to walk through Times Square.

Use your imagination. Can you smell the pretzels on the street corner? Can you hear the honking taxis? Can you see the twinkling lights? Good. Now that you have a focused goal, you’re ready for the next step.

Determine the amount of money to save for every part of the goal.

The goal “vacation in New York” is a little vague. Is this a $500 weekend trip or a massive $5000 week-long extravaganza? And can I come with you?

Break down the goal into every aspect of the trip. What is the cost of the hotel, plane flights, rental car, taxis, tips, your meals for each day, admission to the museums/shows/attractions, souvenirs, etc? Don’t forget to pad your budget for unexpected costs.

Now you’ll have a large total cost for your specific goal made up of many of smaller costs.

Display your goal prominently.

Your task is to keep this 1 specific goal top of mind so you can start saving money. Tape a picture of the Statue of Liberty to your credit card. Change your ringtone to “New York, New York” or “Empire State of Mind.” Update your computer’s desktop image with the logo of your favorite New York sports team.

The payoff.

The next time you want to buy something (let’s say a $20 T shirt), you’ll compare that cost to part of your goal. Twenty dollars might not seem like much now, but that $20 is your admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’ll become second nature—do you want those $150 jeans or do you want to stay an extra night in the hotel?

Whenever you stop yourself from purchasing something impulsively because you thought about your ultimate goal, transfer that amount of money into your savings account. If you’re a Type A like me, cross off the corresponding cost on your goal budget sheet.

Ah, now you’re making progress!

When you save enough money for your goal, reward yourself and actually experience whatever it is. Then choose your next goal!

Need help with your first goal? Try something less expensive like a $50 pair of shoes. Once you achieve a small savings goal, you’ll have momentum to try saving for something larger (snowball effect, baby). Or make a bracket to narrow down your choices.

Still not convinced you can do it? How about starting with an emergency fund? Research what it would cost if your car needed new tires, if you needed a root canal, or if your dog needed emergency stomach surgery. Those things can’t wait—and sometimes we can use fear to our advantage, in this case, to motivate us to save money.

Are you saving for something specific? What’s your best savings advice?

15 Comments

  1. Christina Ammerman on September 3, 2012 at 1:56 am

    I recently started using Mint.com. It has a nice goal-setting feature that you can tie to a specific savings account (or not).



  2. Molly on March 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    We’ve finally got our finances (slowly) turning around, although my arm fiasco set us back some. We finally just made our “wish” list and have been saving for one thing at a time and you’re right- it works so well!

    Right now, we’re just focusing on paying off a few bills (stupid arm!), but after that we’ll be focusing on landscaping stuff.



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      It took me a while to figure out that I save more money when I focus on a single goal. I’ve also stopped multitasking at work; I’m more productive when I’m not pulled in too many directions.

      Medical bills are tough. I hope you’re still making progress with your arm. It must be frustrating. 🙁



      • Molly on March 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        It is frustrating, but I’m making progress and it’s not something life altering, at least. Mike has been so helpful- he keeps reassuring me that this is just a “blip” in our life. 🙂



  3. Megan Gann on March 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    I’m saving all the time. More importantly, I’m now trying to spend less overall because the hubs and I are talking more seriously about moving cross country for him to go to a specific college. I definitely don’t make enough money because right now I’m making nothing. Spending is something unavoidable, but I’m trying to at least make the best decisions when I do have to spend.



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      That’s great that you’re already saving. As someone who moved across the country last year, it does take a lot of money. There were so many other costs I hadn’t thought about. I think you’ve got the right mindset–just try to make the best decisions you can.



  4. Callie - Coffee and Cardigans on March 13, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Oh, I am the worst when it comes to saving money. I always find an excuse to spend. These are great suggestions, Sage!



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks, Callie! I’m getting better about saving money. Even saving a small amount is better than nothing.



  5. Shybiker on March 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I need you to run my life. Come by every day, tell me what to do, what not to do, and correct my mistakes. Every post you put up has great advice!



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 8:16 am

      Hee hee! Sounds good to me, and you can pay me in Twizzlers. 🙂

      I’m glad you get a lot out of my posts. I’m not perfect, and most of my advice comes from me learning from my mistakes. I used to never save money until I thought about what I really wanted (usually vacations).



  6. xvavaveganx on March 13, 2012 at 8:08 am

    This is such a great post! I agree with you, the small purchases add up. I recently decided that next year for my 30th birthday I want to do something big. I’ve always wanted to go to California and I decided that I want to do a big road trip for about 2 weeks (although it may just end up being one week depending on work and whatnot). I am just going to take your NYC trip advice and apply it to my trip. It’ll also make it more fun because budgeting will help me research the trip and it’ll make me even more excited and motivated!

    I’ve already started putting money aside from my paychecks. Just a little but I have to just be extra picky about where I spend my other money. It is also helping to motivate me to get moving on side projects that I have been thinking about 🙂

    Thanks again for all of your amazing advice! And that picture is so cute!



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Turning 30 was fun. Chris took me to Disney World for my 30th birthday. You should come visit me on your California road trip! We’ll eat at all the great vegan restaurants in SF.

      Most of the things I save for are vacations. It’s fun to map out everything I want to do, and then I have a realistic budgeting goal. Being picky with your money is a good thing.

      Chris and I have a lot of fun taking pictures for my blog.



      • xvavaveganx on March 13, 2012 at 8:49 am

        That sounds so fun! I have a year and a half to save and plan it out (within reason, vacations should have some exploration time I think!) but you were definitely a part of the plan when I get to NorCal! I wanted to spend a week on the beach in SoCal then move it on up north and spend some time being active outdoors and exploring San Francisco. A year and a half is a blessing and a curse, it gives me tons of time to save but tons of time to wish I were there now!

        I totally understand why you would save for vacations, I’m a firm believer on investing in experiences rather than things. You have the experiences and memories for way longer!



  7. Cara on March 13, 2012 at 7:23 am

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, you are incredibly wise! I definitely think its easier to save for set items/needs than to just put away money in general. Both my husband and I have gotten into the habit of directing part of our paychecks into savings as soon as we get our paychecks, you can’t miss what you don’t know you have. I’m also trying to carry a set amount of cash on me per week and when its gone, I need to think more carefully about what I spend after the disposable income is gone.



    • Sage on March 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

      That’s such a good idea to direct part of your paychecks into savings right away. I have automated savings too, so I don’t have to think about it. I’ve got too many other things to think about. 🙂

      I’ve heard about people using a set amount of cash each week, and when it’s gone it’s gone. I haven’t tried it yet, but I do see that I spend more when I use credit cards because it’s not “real money.”