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How To Save When You Were Born To Spend

Some people are natural-born savers. Others, not so much. Were you born to spend? Saving money won’t come easily, but it’s not impossible. Here’s why.

Can you save money even if you're a natural-born spender? Yes. Here's how.Are you a Natural Born Spender or Natural Born Saver? Believe it or not, research suggests that—Spender or Saver—you may really be born that way.

So if you want to change your financial habits—say cut back on impulsive purchases and save a bit—what can you do?

A good start is to couple up with your counterpart.

Ever noticed that among couples, one person’s often a Saver and one’s a Spender? It’s a good thing. When two Spenders get together, it’s a recipe for financial trouble. Meanwhile, two married Savers may endure a very secure albeit boring lifetime together.

My parents are an example. My dad’s a Saver, my mom’s a Spender. My wife, Lauren, and I are like this too…and I’m the Spender.

But wait, aren’t I personal finance blogger? Yes, yes. But I’m still a Spender. Despite my dad’s efforts to instill a saving ethic in me, when I got out on my own, I ended up more like my mom: Spender. (Maybe it is in my genes.) Although I learned lessons from overspending, spent years repaying big debts, and now have created systems to pay myself first and invest a percentage of my income, when money comes in, my gut wants to spend it, not save it. I have to fight the urge to spend to put money in the bank. I’m a born Spender.

And though Lauren doesn’t set regular saving goals or always stay on top of things like her retirement savings, she’s a born Saver. When Lauren gets paid, she’s reluctant to spend her money, and usually doesn’t. For example, Lauren could use some new clothes to replace casual outfits she’s had since college. She knows she could use new clothes. We have the money to afford new clothes. I give her time to go shopping for new clothes, offering to watch our daughter on weekends. She’ll go shopping for new clothes. And come back empty handed. She can’t bring herself to spend the money. She’s a born Saver.

So when it comes time to make big financial decisions, Lauren and I balance each other. When I want to hurry up and buy something, she suggests we hold off. When Lauren balks at spending money we have on something that could really improve our life, she’s appreciative that I push us forward.

Oversaving can be as much of a problem as overspending for some people

ARE YOU A SPENDER OR A SAVER?

A big step towards reaching your goals is to understand the subconscious forces driving your financial decisions. We like to think that we’re capable of making entirely rational financial decisions, but this is not the case. If you’re a Spender, you’ll need to create systems in your life that make it impossible for your impulsive self to spend your money. And if you’re a Saver, you need to find ways to create permission for yourself to spend and enjoy your money here and there.

You may already know if you’re a Spender or a Saver. If not, quiz yourself:

SPENDER OR SAVER? QUIZ

When you get a paycheck or another lump sum of money, do you:

  1. Immediately start thinking of things you could buy with that money?
  2. Put some of the money in savings, or simply ignore the fact you now have more money than before.

When you are getting ready to make a large purchase, do you:

  1. Get excited and buy as soon as you can, sometimes too impulsively.
  2. Feel anxious and put off buying as long as you can.

Do you tend to buy things that you don’t really need?

  1. Yes, I have collected a lot of crap I shouldn’t have over the years.
  2. No, I don’t buy something unless it’s absolutely essential.

Obviously, if you answered at least two of these questions “1”, you’re more of a Spender. If you answered two or more “2”, you’re a natural Saver.

When you know this about yourself, you can take steps to consciously overcome your money gut when you need to…even if you’re not married to your financial counterpart.

HOW TO SAVE WHEN YOU WERE BORN TO SPEND

If you perennially have the urge to splurge, saving can be as hard as shedding belly fat. As soon as you take a few steps forward, one lapse in willpower puts you right back at starting line…or behind it.

Michael Rubin is a financial planner and blogging friend of mine who’s just released his second book, The Savings Solution: A Conversation About Living for Today While Saving for Tomorrow. It addresses this exact problem. For Spenders, it provides a way to incorporate financial planning while still enjoying some money now. For Savers, it takes away some of the guilt that comes with spending money.

The Savings Solution presents 10 savings strategies that closely mirror the advice woven throughout my own blog. I want to highlight four here:

1. Stay emotionally connected to your money.

Emotional connections differentiate Savers and Spenders. (Again, this is not about numbers, it’s about psychology.) Savers are emotionally connected with money. It gives them pleasure to watch it grow and it pains them to part with it. We Spenders are emotionally connected to things money can buy; we get more pleasure out of a new outfit or that new car smell than we feel pain from spending. Rubin’s first saving strategy is learning to develop a healthy level of emotional connection to money. You want to feel pinch of spending money, but not so much you hoard it.

2. Major on the major, minor on the minor.

With some rare exceptions, cups of coffee don’t sink a budget—housing, cars, and other expensive stuff does. You want to take time with major financial decisions like where you live and what you drive. The little stuff matters too, especially small but recurring expenses (like a gym membership you’re not using), but you don’t want to be to pennywise but pound foolish.

3. Spend with comfort on what you value most.

This is what I call spending with intention, and it’s one of the pillars of my financial philosophy and my Richer By The Week 5-day goal-setting workbook. Here’s an example:

Michael travels from New England to the University of Michigan, his alma mater, for football games several times a year at a cost of at least $500 a trip. To a non-football fan, that’s a lot of money to spend each year on a very discretionary expense. But Michael loves those trips. They give him something to look forward to. He enjoys every minute of the games—and the trips—because they are intentional.

When you build an indulgence or two that you love into your spending plan, it makes it easier to make other sacrifices (like driving that old car another couple years), because you’re using money in ways that fill your soul and literally add meaning to life.

4. You don’t spend what you don’t see.

Paying yourself first is such a powerful strategy because, as Michael puts it, you don’t spend what you don’t see. If you want to save money, take it out of your paycheck before it even hits your checking account. Then, don’t give yourself easy access to the savings account where you store it (that means no ATM card.) When you automate your finances correctly, you don’t need to budget constantly (also one of Michael’s strategies), letting you worry about money less and enjoy life more.

What about you? Are you a born Spender? How have you trained yourself to overcome the urge to let your money burn a hole in your pocket? Have you used any of these strategies or something else? Let me know in a comment.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I definitely agree that some people tend to be savers while others are spenders. But I think the quiz left little room for people in the middle – spenders who consciously spend rather than impulsively spend.

    I like to spend money for sure – I enjoy taking vacations, trying new experiences, buying nice things, etc. But I don’t purchase impulsively. In fact, I spend ridiculous amounts of time researching large purchases (my car, our future house, etc) before I spend the money. And when we do get large chunks of money (like a tax refund), I do plan to spend it – but not right away. For example we’ve saved the last few tax refunds so that we can buy a house this year.

    I definitely agree with “you don’t spend what you don’t see” though. I put retirement savings into my 401k before I ever get my paycheck, and have been doing that every since I started my current job. So I don’t miss the money because I never had access to it. We haven’t really needed to budget lately because everything is automated – if we are running low on unallocated cash, we spend less. If we have excess spending money, we might go out for a nice dinner or save it for an upcoming vacation.

  2. I smiled while reading this article because I am definitely a saver (with the same clothes-shopping hesitations and otherwise that your wife Lauren has!) and my husband is definitely a spender.

    I agree that the give & take between our spending habits has made us financially stronger. Yes, I reign in my husband’s tendencies to spend (on everything from cafeteria lunches to car payments) but he’s helped me a lot too. My saving mentality and naturally risk-adverse personality meant that my retirement savings were in ultra-conservative investments even though retirement is 30+ years away. He’s helped loosen my grip on that money and change my mindset so it’s okay if there’s a chance I lose money, since the more likely outcome is I’ll be making much higher returns and retiring sooner and/or more comfortably in the long run.

    Between the two of us, we’ve found balance in our financial life.

  3. I agree, Jen. Taking this quiz I found myself in the middle! Yes, I love to spend money, but I don’t spend without thinking. I recently needed a new computer and have wanted a MAC for a while. They are much more expensive, but it’s what I wanted and what I knew would satisfy me. So I waited, saved and when the time was right, I bought my MAC. In this instance I am both a saver and a spender. I saved enough money to buy an over priced computer that I love (and I bought the air not the pro because it was less money)…

  4. I am a natural saver whose at a time in my life where wise spending needs to take place. I’m buying furniture for apartments and researching cars and it pains me to have to make big purchases and figure them into a budget. Having a “normal” monthly budget is hard right now because of unexpected purchases and a lifestyle that accommodates for spending time and money with guys from a church youth group at random times.

    I found solace in the 4 tips mentioned because there is a way to have peace of mind about meeting a savings goal each month (paying yourself in a savings account first) while realizing minor purchases, necessities, and premeditated worthwhile lifestyle goals (like Michael’s football trips) can fit into a wise budget. Thanks for this perspective…. and I’ll keep in mind to look for a spender to spend the rest of my life with so I don’t become too boring as well.

  5. Christina says:

    I am a 100% born spender. I already have a list of 15 things to pay/buy today and my paycheck hasn’t even hit the account. Some of them are necessities such as the mortgage, cell phone bill, gas for the car, etc. But most of the spending will be done on the 3 weddings coming up this month (I’m budgeting $50 for each wedding for the gift…sucks for 3 of them to get married in the same month lol) and then a few things that I would not classify as “impulsive” but also not absolute necessities (order my protein shakes and produce; hit target for baby stuff; etc.). My husband is a 100% born saver. Unfortunately, he’s not strong enough to stand up to me. He’s been saving for a new bicycle and he does the good ol-fashioned cash strategy. $40/paycheck. He had $160 saved and I convinced him we needed it this weekend to get by. :( I promise him that once things are better, he will get to take that cash back out…but I wonder if that will happen. Anyway, I need to look for ways to seriously put money aside that I can’t spend. I’m scared to do automated bill-payments because I’m frightened that I won’t have enough money in the account when the bill comes out. Anyone else have ideas?

  6. Christina I personally do not worry about “running out of money” at the end of the month. I make a strict budget and if i happen to go over the amount of cash I have set aside for each expense, then I have my credit card to help get me by. Once I get paid again, I immediately pay off my credit card and recreate a budget. I also have a savings account with my emergency fund that i do not touch.

    • Christina says:

      Unfortunately, it’s the norm for us to be totally overdrawn at the end of the month. I have often felt like I need therapy or something. I just don’t know how to not spend. Again, I’m not spending on frivolous/impulsive things…I have never had a brand-name purse or shoes; I hardly EVER buy clothes; we have two practical cars; I buy jewelery at Anchor Blue or Burlington coat factor about every other year lol. I don’t know why we’re always broke. But, this topic makes me understand that I may be fighting an uphill battle. However, I don’t intend on letting it be my excuse. I really WANT to make changes. But Joe, thanks for reminding me about the emergency fund! Guess that’s where I need to start because I think that’s what gets us in to the most trouble each month…the unforseeable or uncommon expenses (e.g., buying new tires; paying our tax guy; buying extra birthday presents; etc.).

      • Christina,

        The first thing I would do is create a budget. You definitely need to figure out where all of your money is going. For example, when my husband and I were trying to pay off our credit cards, we used Suze Orman’s expense tracker (available on her website) and were shocked to realize how much we’d spent on travel. It wasn’t that we’d been taking cruises to the Bahamas or trips to Vegas, but we’d traveled to see family up and down the East Coast. Those trips added up.

        Once you have a detailed, realistic budget, you can find places to cut. Can you spend $25 or $30 per wedding gift instead of $50, for example? Your friends will be just as honored by your gift, trust me. And, at $25 per gift instead of $50, on three gifts, you’d save $75, which your husband could put into saving for that bike.

        Regarding automating your savings, once you have your budget, you’ll know where your money is going. Then you can figure out how much you really can afford to save. If you find you’re saving too much, you can make adjustments until you find an amount that’s sufficient but comfortable. Good luck!

        I’m somewhere in the middle of the spender/saver continuum. I like to spend, but I also get more of a thrill from saving. My husband is the ultimate saver. He hates to part ways with money. Over the years, we’ve found a balance, but we’re continually making small changes to accommodate new goals, like saving for a house.

        • Christina says:

          Thank you so much, Denise! I am going to get her budget worksheet today. I used to have a budget but I failed at keeping it updated once we moved into our house about a year and a half ago. Time to get back on track…and you’re SO right about the wedding gifts. Everyone was so generous to us for our wedding, I want to repay the generosity…I guess that’s where my mentality comes from. But, I will find something awesome for them on their registry that isn’t quite as much. :) Thank you again for your suggestions and insight!

          • Christina I am obsessed with my Mint account tracker. It helps you get the data you need automatically — but you still need to check it, especially in the beginning, because it will either not get the labels right or it will group everything under one label. So for example if you go to Target and buy $50 wedding present + $50 on groceries, everything will just go under Shopping for example. That may be good enough for you to get started but I find I need more detail to really keep a lid on my spending because I tend to splurge most on groceries.

            I really recommend you spend this weekend reading up on sites like this one, stay home to work on your budget/spending plan and let your dear husband keep his $160 in the bank. Best of luck! You can definitely do this!! Soon you will have the confidence to fire the accountant too!!!

          • Christina says:

            Thanks, Amber! I will check out Mint right now! I’ve used it before but back when I was a college student and my bills/finances were minimal. I got lazy with keeping up with it once we bought a house and had a baby-BUT TOO BAD! LOL I need to get back on it. :) Thanks for the confidence. I am excited!

  7. 3rd generation born saver…my father & his father are both hardcore savers and I’ve become rather fickle about my purchases. If I walk into Best Buy, I may pick up a video game, walk around the store for 10 minutes or so, all while debating it in my head and 9/10, I end up returning it to the shelf and walking out the store empty handed.

    Granted, I have no qualms about paying the bills I incurred and don’t analyze all my purchases, I’m pained if I don’t see a certain balance in my checking account and I’m even more so pained to have debt for the first time (bought my first car so my first car payment just occurred and owe a small debt to my parents). I don’t like knowing that I don’t have the cash on hand to make the remainder of my 2012 IRA contribution and miss out on the 1st quarter (and likely the 2nd quarter) dividends I routinely get.

    Either way, it’s still a work in progress forcing myself to realize that between my 401k, IRA, and personal savings, I’m much further ahead than my fellow peers (I’m 31) and I need to scale back on my savings and try to find some more enjoyment.

  8. I was definitely born a saver. Just thinking about being a spender makes me nervous.

  9. I think the real nugget of brillance in the peice, that some people are missing, is the role of intention. It’s not about being a born saver or born spender. It is about the intention behind that spending. Most people would call me a saver, but I really don’t buy into the saver/spender paradigm because I do both agressively. I don’t waste my money on the small, frivolus, one time use purchases like running up big bar tabs, or spending $100 on a costume that I will only wear once. I save my money, but I save it with intention. That intention is so that I can really spend on big ticket items that I really want.

    For example, some of my friends call me cheap because I hold back a lot of the time on every day purchases when, financially, I don’t have to. However, they forget the fact that I own a sports car on top of a daily driver. So really, in one category I am a saver, and in the other category, I am a big spender. It is the intent behind saving and spending that differentiates us.

    Beyond the intention, I think that our vision is the other dividing line. By vision, I mean whether we focus on the short term or the long term. Those that focus on the short term are the spenders, who are more concerned about enjoying life now as opposed to later. Those who focus on the long term are savers, who plan to enjoy the future. Take Christina’s example from above, its not that her husband is not willing to spend money, he is going to buy a new bike. The difference is that his long-term view allows hime to delay satisfaction until he can save the cash necessary in a way he sees as sensible. On the other hand, Christina has a short term view, and she is more worried about taking care of what she sees are pertinent right now.

    The key message is to understand that neither the “spender” or “saver” ideology is correct. It is about understanding what drives your decisions about saving and spending, and making sure that you find moderation between the two. You have to save so that you don’t go broke, but you have to save with the intent to spend the money wisely in a way that will make you happy.

    • Christina says:

      Wow, Drew! You hit the nail on the head!! See, it bothers me that my husband wants to save money for a bike when there are SO MANY other things we need to take care of right now. But of course I’m not going to object to his goal. :) Man, I didn’t see it that way…thanks. Now I have to figure out how to start reaching a balance!

      • Christina,

        As David pointed out, the answer is in your marriage. Your husband has the long term or “saver” view that you need. The two of you should sit down and make your financial decisions together. Neither one of you is right or wrong, and so neither of you should dominate the conversation. By reaching a compromise on your families spending habits, you will achieve a healthy balance. You give-in a little bit and let him save for a long term goals (like an emergency fund so you over draw your account) and in return he should give-in a little bit to let you spend now to enjoy life (like the wedding gifts) since both are important. On top of that, when the spending is agreed upon in advance, there is no conflict down the road. Good luck!

        • Christina says:

          Thank you again for the advice. I feel so fortunate that I got personal attention on this matter. We actually talked about the spending/saving factor yesterday and we worked out a way to achieve our goals. I don’t think David would quite agree with it because it involves incorporating transfers into several different accounts (5, including our joint checking accounts) BUT I think it will work for us. I did what Denise recommended and reviewed our budget so I know what we can save and it even involves putting money aside for gifts and holidays, which is where we often fall apart and take months to recover from! Thanks again, all!

  10. David Weliver says:

    Agreed, you’ve got it down, Drew. Thanks for your insight.

    As many others noticed, the quiz is intentionally black and white (for instance, there are three questions so you can’t be split 50/50 between Saver and Spender). Obviously it’s much more complicated than that, but sometimes an oversimplification can help us shed light on things that are otherwise hard to see. Those of us commenting here probably have a good idea of our financial habits, my hope is that those who don’t may also read this and go “Huh. When you put it like that, I never realized how much of a Saver/Spender I am!”

  11. Thanks so much for posting this! No one can solve any of their problems, debt included, unless they understand themselves and why they got into the situation in the first place. Sometimes people go into debt because of school or an emergency, and sometimes people really are just natural-born spenders! Knowing yourself is the first step to making yourself a better future so I’m glad you talk about it here! I find myself falling somewhere between – I relish saving money and don’t plan big purchases, but sometimes in the moment I give in to an impulse. But knowing that about myself means I can usually stop myself from making a decision I’ll regret later!

  12. Michael Rubin says:

    David,
    A wonderful post. While I think my wife and I are both hard-wired to save (and your quiz would bare that out), I’ve found that we’re both getting more comfortable with spending. Some of that is just the reality of having three children (how much of a choice are diapers, really?), but much of it is also knowing that what we once viewed as a stretch is less so due to the many years of previous saving. I wouldn’t say we’re changing our wiring (nor do I think it’s necessarily possible), but on the margin, we’re probably more balanced than ever.

    Thanks for incorporating “The Savings Solution” into your post!

  13. I am a spender too and so is my wife. I know that could be cause for financial disaster, but it isn’t. Why, you might ask? Because we have a budget and tell our money what to do. We have a certain amount to set aside for retirement and a certain amount to set aside for savings. I think the key is to have a PLAN and stick to it.

  14. All good stuff in theory but you cant help thinking that it sounds a like another quango coming to “protect the consumer”.

    An extension of the ISA system would be better ie upto £20k each year and make the banks give a good rate instead of pocketing the tax break for “administration” like they do now.

  15. I am a born spender because I am into a lot of impulsive buying. I see something I like, and if the salesperson can convince me, I buy it. Sometimes I regret what I did at other times I just assure myself that I did right. However, I want to change it and it sure is hard but I’m not giving up. Thanks for these tips!

  16. I am a born saver while my wife is a born spender. We both like the finer things in life. The difference between the two of us is she will actually buy those finer things! Like your wife, I am reluctant to spend money on new clothes. If I do, I will only buy them at a reduced rate from a second hand store like Marshals. I guess that means the most financially sound couples are both born SAVERS!

  17. I am a born saver as I have always loved to put away my money. But at times I tend to go through spending sprees on things I love, for example watches. I bought a few watches in a time span of 3 years and I consider that a minor addiction. I have since held back those purchases. My wife on the other hand is a spender, and does not like to save. Great Post.

  18. Born-Saver with Bipolar Disorder = need to budget money for manic spending

    So far, my manic spending has not compromised my financials at all. I would not have any decent clothes for work or a bicycle if I did not have bipolar disease. I am working on a plan to balance my spending vs. savings to ensure that I enjoy life now (ie bicycles) and have plenty for the future.

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  21. Myra Mitchell says:

    I try to save but something always comes up that the kids need and I pull it out of my savings and I cant seem to get in to the habit of putting it back. Once I start I feel like whats the use

    • Myra Mitchell says:

      Im going to try to pay my self first when I put my check in the bank. I usally try to start by giving god his 10% and after I try to pay all my bills and after its all down hill