Profitable ways to retrain your brain
Building wealth is about more than just hitting a number. It’s also about cultivating the habits of mind that make saving second nature—or at least a whole lot less painful. But as anyone who’s ever tried to get in shape can tell you, changing behavior isn’t easy. Sometimes you need a clever “cheat” to help you on your way. So here are 8 mental tricks that can speed you on the path to financial security.
1. Set a savings goal that matches your money mindset.
When you hear the word “saving,” do you imagine the retirement you hope to enjoy? Or does your brain go right to the 401(k) forms you need to fill out? For those who tend to focus on the big picture, a specific target (say, to reach a balance of $50,000 by a certain date) can motivate saving, says Gülden Ülkümen, a business professor at the University of Southern California. If you’re thinking mainly of the nuts and bolts, though, picking a dollar figure may make the task feel harder. Instead, concentrate on putting away as much as you can.
2. Whatever the goal, keep it real.
“You don’t want goals that are so aggressive that you’ll lose steam,” says Lisa Ordóñez of the University of Arizona, who has studied the effects of goals on behavior.
3. Use windfalls to ramp up.
The easiest dollars to set aside are the ones you aren’t used to spending. So put a portion of bonuses and tax refunds into savings. Make raises an occasion to up your 401(k) contribution. About 44% of plans have some kind of auto-escalation feature, which allows your savings rate to rise with your income, but you may have to specifically sign up for this option.
4. Don’t make financial decisions after a rough day at work.
You save more when you feel powerful, even when it’s for a quirky reason. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who had just answered questions while sitting in a tall chair were more likely to save money than those on a low ottoman. A practical takeaway: Consider reserving your major financial chores for “up” days when you are feeling in command, says study coauthor Anne-Kathrin Klesse.
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