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5 ways to train your brain to save in 2021

We get it: “Saving for a rainy day” is the right thing to do—the kind of sage advice Dad might offer. But for most of us, it feels far more thrilling to put your paycheque towards a splurge at the mall than sock it away in a savings account.

But your mindset could make all the difference: For instance, don’t think of saving as a chore. Instead, look at it as rewarding yourself in the future. Whether your goals include a new home, a trip of a lifetime, or a big renovation, realizing these dreams starts with making a savings plan. The trick is getting yourself to commit to saving as you would to any other priority in your life, like getting a job or starting a family.

Here are five powerful (and maybe even enjoyable) strategies to help get your brain into the act of saving:

1. Pay yourself first

The first step is to stop thinking about saving as taking away money. Instead, says Lisa Jackson, managing editor of personal finance blog Young and Thrifty, change the narrative: You’re paying yourself first. “If you allocate a lump sum from every paycheque towards savings. You’re saying yes to future fun. You’re saying yes to you,” says Jackson. Saving becomes a fixed expense in your budget, just like housing, utilities, groceries, and so forth. By saving, you’re prioritizing your personal interests and ensuring there’s always money available for your own use.

Once you’re mentally on board, figure out how much you can afford to put towards savings. A simple, effective method is to use the 50:20:30 rule, which suggests putting 20% of your after-tax income to savings. So if your paycheque is $1,500 after taxes, that would mean saving $300 each pay period.

Money Manager, Coast Capital’s free, personal financial management tool, can help you get a clearer financial picture. This type of budgeting resource is not only important in helping you manage your monthly spending but analyzing spending patterns and identifying savings opportunities, too. It’s like having your own virtual money coach.

2. Put saving on autopilot

After calculating how much you can afford to save, automate your contributions. You can do this by setting up a preauthorized deposit that transfers a lump sum from your chequing account into your savings account on a regularly scheduled day. This could be the first Friday of the month or a bi-weekly deposit to match your pay cycle—whatever works. “When your savings are on autopilot,” says Jackson, “it removes the temptation to blow any excess cash on random purchases and keeps you on track for achieving your financial goals.”

If you’re stowing your cash in a high-interest savings account, track how much interest you are earning each month. The longer you go without spending your savings, the more your money pile grows.

One fun way to add to your preauthorized deposits is to try the “Weather Wednesday Challenge,” says Jackson. Every Wednesday for 12 months, put away the amount of money equal to the weather high that day. So if it’s 15 degrees on a Wednesday in May, save $15. If it’s a balmy 30 degrees in August, save $30. For the below-zero winter temperatures, you could either take a break from saving or just ignore the negative symbol. So for instance, put away $2 if it’s -2 in December. “Whatever you choose, it’s all about having fun with saving,” says Jackson.

3. Create banking buckets

Gone are the days of putting all your pennies into one piggy bank—achieving your savings goals starts with organizing your bank accounts. Think about it: If a lump sum is just sitting idle in a chequing account, how will you know what’s for savings and what’s for everyday spending? This could leave the door wide open for excess spending.

According to Jackson, a smart strategy is to create “banking buckets,” opening multiple savings accounts that are labelled for specific goals. For instance, you could designate one account as a “home renovation fund” and another as a “vacation fund.” The simple act of naming your accounts could also get you excited about saving and motivate you to stick to a plan. “You can set a goal for how much you want to save and track your progress over the course of a year,” says Jackson, “sort of like the personal savings version of The Amazing Race!

Next, set up preauthorized deposits to each account—a smooth move that’ll boost your balance in no time. Meanwhile, designate a chequing account for everyday banking transactions—such as paying bills, depositing/writing cheques, withdrawing cash, and so on. It’s a simple system—but one that can work.

4. Top up your contributions

It’s a good feeling to get a pay increase, and your knee-jerk instinct might be to think about all the ways you’re going to spend it. But here’s another idea: Boost your savings. “Whenever you get a raise, pay off a debt, or otherwise find extra money, add it to your savings goals and enjoy watching your accounts grow,” says Jackson.

For example, instead of spending an annual salary increase, you could funnel those extra funds from each paycheque into your savings account. Or, let’s say your child starts kindergarten—those freed-up funds once spent on daycare could now be added to your “home renovation fund” instead. Same with paying off a car or student loan—re-direct the amount of your former loan payment into savings instead. You could also top up your contributions by adding birthday or holiday money to the coffers, as well as any extra bucks that you bring in from selling second-hand items.

Your employer may also be able to help: In a study by the University of Chicago, employees were asked to allocate a portion of their future salary increases to a retirement savings plan. After four annual raises, the researchers found that 80% of people remained in the plan, and the average saving rates increased from 3.5 percent to a whopping 13.6 percent over 40 months. Ask your employer if they might be able to automate savings for you. Or you could do-it-yourself: Just calculate the difference on every paycheque. For instance, if you were earning $1,500 a pay period, and now you’re getting $1,600 with your raise, stash that extra $100 into a high-interest savings account, TFSA, or RRSP.

5. Make saving more manageable

For some, it may seem daunting to think about saving hundreds of dollars each month. Instead, break down the task into manageable pieces, putting aside $5, $10, or $20 per day. The goal is to start healthy money habits—no matter how small.

One way to get there is to follow the popular challenge, says Jackson. “It’s the practice of saving an increasing amount of money each week over a year. How it works is you start by saving $1 in Week 1 and then increase your savings by $1 weekly. By the time you reach Week 52, you’ll have saved $1,378,” she says.

If you prefer to save lesser amounts more frequently, you could also try the 365-day money challenge. “It’s the same idea,” says Jackson. “But you bank a little more each day, starting with $0.01 on Day 1 and boosting your contributions by $0.01 daily. By day 365, you’ll have banked $667.95.”

If you decide to do both strategies, stay organized by putting your savings into money jars or by opening multiple savings accounts to hold the funds. Says Jackson: “The advantage of using a savings account is that you’ll earn interest, whereas your dough will collect dust sitting at home.”

A positive, steady approach going forward

When you think about the act of saving as putting yourself first, setting money aside may not be such a drag. In fact, it can even be fun if you choose one of the more creative tactics for stashing and building your cash above.

What’s great—and maybe even surprising—is that you don’t have to sock away big bucks to make progress towards achieving your goals. With the right attitude and a few savvy tools, it just goes to show how small steps can lead to big rewards.

For more ways to grow your money, check out Coast Capital’s personal finance blog, The Help Hub.

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