Five Tips for Keeping Your Savings Resolution in 2021
Many people use the turning of the calendar as a chance to begin anew and make specific lifestyle improvements. This has probably never been truer than for those ready to leave 2020 behind.
Saving more money is always a popular New Year’s resolution, but it’s also one that’s often more challenging than expected. In fact, a 2019 poll found that nearly half of US adults made a New Year’s goal to save more that year, yet only half of the participants actually met their savings goal.
Given that 2020 likely left many Americans resolving to build up an emergency savings fund or restock a depleted one, here are five strategies to increase your odds for success this coming year.
1. The Magnificence of Significance
One easy, but often overlooked step is to make a more specific or meaningful resolution. Everyone knows we’re supposed to have an emergency savings fund. But a vague obligation can make it hard to remain motivated throughout the year. Instead, research shows that attaching significance to your saving or a reason why you save can improve your chances for success.
For example, instead of committing to “save more”, resolve to “save for emergencies so I don’t have to skimp on groceries for my family.” This personal significance motivates us to work harder towards achieving the goal.
Beyond a clearly articulated reason, make your resolution even more specific by defining the amount you’ll save, when, and how. Committing to “save to avoid skimping on groceries by putting $25 every pay period into a separate savings account” makes it much more concrete and therefore harder to ignore. The actual transfer can be easily scheduled using an online bank account or mobile app.
2. Make It Easier on Yourself
One scientific way to achieve higher speeds in a car is to reduce friction. Similarly, behavioral science shows that savers can better reach their goals by removing barriers or impediments to saving.
The profound imbalance between systems pushing you to spend and encouraging you to save, having to recall your savings intention each month, and manually transferring the money between accounts all create unnecessary roadblocks. To overcome them and reduce friction, make emergency savings automatic.
Many direct deposit programs allow you to split your payroll deposit into a checking account and a separate savings account. If you are unable to use direct deposit to split your income, schedule automatic transfers within your bank or credit union to move money from checking to a savings account.
If your income is variable rather than the same each pay period, then you may want to consider using a savings app such as Qapital that lets you define a percentage of your income (rather than a dollar amount) to automatically save towards emergencies.
3. Separate Buckets for Separate Jobs
Keeping emergency funds separate from your checking account is a critical first step. But a next level savings strategy is to open a second savings account distinct from general savings.
A second account for discretionary spending like a vacation or new vehicle only after you’ve put the money aside is a useful way to handle non-emergency needs. Holding funds separately lessens the chance you’ll justify dipping into the emergency fund for non-emergency purchases. And a label is a powerful deterrent!
Apps like Smarty Pig, Chime, and Digit or even your online banking account allow for the creation of multiple, named buckets.
4. Everybody Makes Mistakes
Critical to achieving our long-term goals is having the ability to recover when we slip up. Accept that we may sometimes make mistakes. Then identify what might take you off-track again and make a plan for how to avoid it or minimize the potential derailment.
Are you prone to overspending when you eat out? Then consider a commitment to decrease your entertainment spending by the same amount whenever that happens to continue making progress on your emergency savings goal. You can flag these mistakes by setting parameters within a personal finance app or simply by reviewing your credit card or bank statement each month.
Having a plan will make you feel more in control and more likely to recover from mistakes.
5. Rinse, Wash, Repeat.
It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to spend your emergency savings. The entire point of this account is to use it when you have a flat tire, doctor’s bill, or another unexpected expense.
The account allows you to avoid putting emergency expenses on costly credit cards, taking out a payday loan, or asking family and friends for support. So, when an emergency arrives, it’s wise to spend down your account.
The key is to then refill the account. Automated savings contributions sent to a savings account distinct from discretionary spending buckets will make it easy. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Margaret Bolton and Shanta Ricks are Behavioral Researchers in the Common Cents Lab at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight; the Common Cents Lab is funded by the MetLife Foundation and supported by Blackrock as part of BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative.