“If you want to get out of debt, you must get more enjoyment out of saving your money than you do spending your money”

Disclosure: I know I should attribute this quote to someone but Google doesn’t know to whom. I saw it in Mike Michalowicz’s book Profit First, but I am pretty sure it came from somewhere else. Sorry, originator, but you will have to go uncited today.

Generally, I don’t care for quotes. I am not the person who stitches them on pillows or prints them in her craft room (and no, I don’t have a craft room either), but this quote really got to me because I am constantly struggling with  how to convince both my family and my clients to save more and spend less.  So today, we will be talking about spending, saving, and happiness.

The struggle to spend less is no different than the struggle to stay skinny. We all know that we should be eating carrots and saving for out retirement but as long as there are things to buy and chocolate cake to eat credit card customer service employees and nutritionists will continue to have jobs. Why is that, why are we so bad at being disciplined and doing what’s best for us?

…Because at the heart of our problem is the desire to reward ourselves. Those new shoes feel so much better than the extra $100 we could be stashing away in our 403(b). That slice of cheesecake feels so much better than the double dose of calcium, triple dose of fiber, paper tasting English muffin. As long as spending money gives us more pleasure than saving it, we will continue to spend it. Period.

Well now that Mrs. Obvious has pointed out the problem, what can we do about it? My circumstantial research into the topic of our motivation to save identified two types of people who are successful as saving. The first group has a very well developed sense of guilt. Spending money makes them feel so badly that they end up saving. I am pretty sure I cannot recreate that in my clients or in my family.  The second group, however, is the one we all have a chance of mimicking. These are the people who sat down, thought about what money means to them, consciously identified the degree of happiness a new purchase actually brings them, and decided that all this stuff is not worth it and that saving for a secure retirement takes priority over spending.  These are the people who decided they are not going to eat the piece of cake because they don’t want to and not because they can’t. These are the people I hope we can all become one day.

The struggle takes a new spin in a family where the two spouses have not reached the same realization at the same time.  Imagine a situation where the two spouses are spenders. I may tell them that’s not a good idea when they come for a financial plan, but they are still pretty happy because they are on the same page about money. Fast-forward. Two years later, one of the spouses has shifted from being a spender to being a saver while the other one has not. This is the nightmare scenario that in many cases results in arguing, if not divorce. There is no happy middle; as long as the two people have completely different ideas about spending money, this will be a constant fight. Are there ways to stay married and be that different? Yes, there are, but that’s a different conversation.  For right now, what needs to be achieved is getting the spender on the same page as the saver because the saver is probably not going to go back to his pre-enlightenment days.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if I can change behavior. I can tell people what they should do but in many cases, I know they won’t do it (if you need me to guilt you into it, I can). I have seen people for whom it just clicks but generally, moving someone’s spending behavior is an internal process. No matter how much I tell you what you should be doing, it won’t help if you don’t want to do it. So my piece of advice is sit down, evaluate your life and your priorities, figure out what your values are and compare them to how you spend your money. Is there a way to better align your values with your spending habits? Realize it’s not going to be an overnight process and just do your best. And remember, I am not advocating your live your life devoid of pleasure. I am just insisting you look at your current spending (and I mean every single dollar you spend) and ask yourself, are you happy with the way you spend your money?.. because when you get to the point you are not, you will probably start saving.