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.
In fact, a recent consumer report, showed that spending across all of America has gone up in the last few decades.
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.
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 of Saver? Quiz
When you get a paycheck or another lump sum of money, do you:
- Immediately start thinking of things you could buy with that money?
- 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:
- Get excited and buy as soon as you can, sometimes too impulsively.
- Feel anxious and put off buying as long as you can.
Do you tend to buy things that you don’t really need?
- Yes, I have collected a lot of crap I shouldn’t have over the years.
- 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 connect 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. 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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