This post was originally written by Ashley Tate for Credit Sesame.
The key to financial success is simple: Buy less and save more. Yet this easy-to-comprehend adage is extremely difficult to follow. Case in point: According to a recent survey from America Saves (a campaign managed by the Consumer Federation of America), 63 percent of people are making only fair or no progress saving money. And the Credit Union National Association found that almost half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. So what's stopping us from stocking up?
We believe that things make us happy.
Or that's what we tell ourselves anyway: "If I get this bag/pair of shoes/television/new car, my life will be complete." But just how money itself doesn't buy happiness, neither does the actual stuff. In the moment, buying something gives us a sense of euphoria — but it's a passing emotion. And before long, we've moved on to wanting something else — but it, too, will give us the same fleeting high. And an empty pocketbook, too.
We prioritize the present over the future.
According to Sendhil Mullainathan, co-author of the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, one of the reasons why we have such a difficult time setting aside money is because when we need money to pay bills and urgent expenses now (think: school tuition, unforeseen auto repairs, or even monthly utility charges), we simply don't think about future expenses such as retirement costs. (As the saying goes—out of sight, out of mind.) While that may not seem like a problem now, it will leave you in a quandary later on in life when you no longer have an income but still have regular expenses that need to be paid.
We fail to reform our bad habits.
You know that you should pay your credit card bill in full each month. Yet you always seem to spend more than what you can actually afford — leaving you with a revolving balance that ends up costing you even more money. And not only that, it prevents you from setting aside even a dime, too. Oftentimes, not saving is just a bad money habit we commit. Plus, it's easy to come up with excuses for why we're overspending: “I didn't need those shoes, but I absolutely loved them.” "That was a deal that I couldn't pass up." "I didn't buy my mom a nice gift last year, so I owed her one now." And unfortunately, it's just as difficult to ditch a bad financial habit as it is other negative practices, like popping your knuckles, biting your nails, or overeating.
We follow a herd mentality.
You fully intended to save your annual bonus — that is, until you realized all your friends are carrying around the latest smartphone and yours is several generations old. It's in our nature to want to be like others, and we're willing to skip out on saving in order to fit in with our friends and acquaintances. After all, they will see your fancy new device, but not the balance of your bank account.