The Key to Financial Independence? Saving Money

The ability to save money is one of the foundational principles for reaching financial independence. Good money behaviors, including spending habits and a commitment to saving, are a recipe for success.

While some people seem to save money intuitively and without a great deal of effort, others find it difficult or almost impossible to do so. What are the differences between people who can save without a struggle, and those who find it difficult to save money, and how do people who struggle to save overcome these difficulties? (For more, see: 10 Ways to Effectively Save for the Future.)

Your Upbringing Influences Your Spending Habits

It's never a good idea to blame our problems on others, but your upbringing exerts a great deal of influence on your spending habits. Typically, children raised in frugal households tend to save money more easily during their adult lives. The opposite holds true as well. Children of parents who spend impulsively or don't have a good hold on their personal finances tend to have difficulty saving money as adults. Although this is not always the case, it's worthwhile to look at the relationship that someone's parents had with money.

Another reason some people can't save is related to a phenomenon called learned helplessness. This is a state of mind that causes people to believe that there's nothing they can do to escape a negative situation, when the opposite is actually true. As it relates to saving money, learned helplessness often arises in people who have had consistently negative experiences with money.

Although learned helplessness can begin during childhood, it can come about from adult experiences as well. The more often someone experiences a failed attempt to save money, the more likely they are to believe that they're simply not capable of doing so. In other words, they begin to think that the inability to save money is just a part of who they are.

You'll notice that both of these difficulties are learned behaviors. While it's not always easy to reverse the trends established early in life, the good news is these patterns can be unlearned as well. The best way to begin unlearning these patterns is through practice.

4 Ways to Start Saving Money

  1. Start by saving a small amount each week.
  2. Track the progress you make, however small it is.
  3. Set savings goals and acknowledge reaching them with a small reward.
  4. Find a "financial buddy'" and establish a dynamic with them where you're mutually accountable and can encourage one another.

While these can help, the most impactful practice I have seen is removing choice from the equation as much as possible.

Automate Your Savings

Hopefully, you've gained some insights into the psychology of saving money from what you've read here. But it's equally important to understand that these insights are not enough to elicit the necessary changes. Self-awareness is necessary for making positive changes, but it's far from sufficient. Any real change results from constructive action.

The best way to develop a savings habit it to automate. With an automated savings plan, you'll be able to change your habits without even thinking about it. If you don't have a savings account, open one immediately and connect to your checking account. You should also sign up for direct deposit and arrange for a percentage of your paycheck to be deposited into your savings account automatically.

Set up an emergency fund and contribute a reasonable amount to it consistently. This will help you cover unexpected expenses and facilitate the next rule of automated savings. Don't touch the money in your savings account. Let it grow through good budgeting and proper use of your emergency fund. Last, ensure you are receiving your 401(k) match. This means contributing at least the maximum percentage that your employer will match, usually around 2%-3%.

Removing the need to choose to save by automating your savings is an easy way to establish the habit. For people who struggle saving money on their own, making the process automatic may be a necessity.

Don't be discouraged if you happen to be someone who struggles to save money. Simply acknowledge the problem and remain focused on the solution. A big part of this solution is automated savings. Start executing your automated savings plan today and you'll see a rosier financial future. (For more from this author, see: 3 Crucial Tips for Living Within Your Means.)