If I had a dime for each time I saw an article about savings that made me cringe a little … well, I’d have a lot of savings!
You see, hundreds of bloggers and “money experts” have a lot to say about savings. And a lot of these people have great advice. Smart advice. Proven advice. And if their approaches work for you? Awesome!
But here’s the thing: over and over again, dear members in my community have told me they tried to follow these traditional money management methods — and (in their words) failed miserably, sending them down a money shame spiral.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there are definitely points in our money journeys when we need to fire up some discipline in our own best interest — and sometimes, savings is the place to do this.
But in the intimate, complex world of money, the path is rarely linear. Cookie cutters don’t cut it, and gentleness trumps disciplinarianism, every single time.
So here are a few fresh, new ways to re-think saving money … without losing heart. If you’re used to traditional advice from “money experts,” well, you just might need to hold onto your hat …
1. You can’t always save. And that’s OK. (Really.)
Of all the hundreds of money professionals I’ve talked to over the last 15 years, almost all of them sing the same chorus about savings: Always save SOMETHING, even if it’s only $1 per week. Savings is a muscle, and you have to strengthen it. There’s no excuse: save, save, save!
This makes a certain kinda sense. The only problem is: it doesn’t actually work.
Over the course of a lifetime, you will experience many ups and downs — and your cashflow will dip and spike along the way. Trying to SAVE NO MATTER WHAT … might make you lose your mind.
For the first two years after my son was born, my husband and I didn’t save money at all: we pared down our workload and simplified our lifestyle so we could prioritize family, rest, and quiet. In fact: we actually dipped into the savings we’d worked so hard to accumulate. Was this a bad money decision? Absolutely not! It might not have looked great on paper … but it was the best call, for us, for that period of time.
Feel into this moment, this phase of your life. Is this a good time for you to save? A little? A lot? Not at all? Know that these answers will change over time … and the path to a more conscious, honest, smart relationship with money begins when you admit and embrace what’s true for you right now.
2. Set clear savings intentions … and name them.
The more clear you are on why you’re saving money, the easier it will be to keep at it (especially when drooling over that unbelievable pair of red, patent leather Kate Spade slingbacks you know would go with everything — wait, why am I saving, again??).
So. Set clear intentions for the money you’re working so hard to save. I love having a bit of money earmarked as “Cashflow Savings” to buffer me during those inevitable cashflow dips or surprise expenses. You might want to set aside “Happy Holiday Splurging” or “Best Vacation EVARR.”
Some of my community members love creating separate savings accounts for each goal so everything is organized nicely, with a clear, named intention. If that feels like too much of a hassle, don’t do it — but do make sure you clarify why you’re saving money and somehow label those funds to remind you of this why.
And do yourself a favor: don’t call it an “Emergency Fund.” Who wants an emergency?? How about changing this to a “Peace of Mind Fund”? Now that’s something you can feel good watching grow, isn’t it?
3. Expect the unexpected.
After you track your income, savings, and expenses for a number of months, you’ll probably notice: all of that “unexpected” stuff — vet visits, doctor’s bills, house repairs — well, it isn’t really unexpected. It’s just normal, life happens stuff — you just didn’t notice it before.
When people sit down to create a monthly spending plan, they often only think of expenses that happen once a month or more — and forget these once-in-awhile expenses. So when you make those earmarked, specially named savings categories, consider adding a “Life Happens” category or “Rainy Day Fund.” That way, when those unexpected things inevitably happen … you’ll be ready.
4. Make a plan … and make it your own.
I can almost hear some of you shouting, at this point: “OK, OK, Bari! Just tell me: how much should I save? How often? How much???”
It’s OK. I know so many of you crave someone to finally just tell you what to do … right? (Some of you more rebellious types might be scrunching your face up right now, saying, “um, not me!” That’s OK. This tip is for you, too.)
Here’s the thing: there are so many “gold standard” approaches to savings. It’s up to you to choose what works for you. Here are some possibilities to consider:
- Follow Elizabeth Warren’s 50/30/20 plan, in which she recommends saving 20% of your after-tax income.
- Pick a different percentage of your income and transfer that into your savings account every time you get paid (whether that’s every two weeks or not).
- Save a specific amount every week (or month).
- Tuck away a larger chunk of savings every time you get a bonus, a gift, or unexpected extra.
- Make it a game to live as frugally as possible and set aside all extra money at the end of the month.
So … what’s the right answer? The one that works for you, right now. That’s it. YOU get to shape this. Whatever you choose, though, please celebrate! When you transfer that money to your savings account (or however you save money), please take a moment (a little Money Date) to celebrate the work and circumstances and choices that lead to this money. Practice gratitude — for your money and for your life.
5. Learn, fine-tune, experiment, lather, rinse, repeat.
Savings is a skill. It’s a muscle you’re strengthening. It’s a learning process. You will fine-tune and tweak it, as you go. Regular Money Dates will keep you on track … and compassion will get you back on that horse when you fall. Be patient with yourself as you learn this new skillset!
6. Remember the other money areas, too!
In my upcoming book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, I identify five main money areas: earning, spending, saving, debt repayment, and investing/gifting.
Savings is only one part of the big picture. Sometimes, it’s totally appropriate to focus on just one of these five money areas, and let the others go on “autopilot” for awhile. But sometimes, we focus so much on just one area, the others begin screaming for our attention … and we’ve gone tone-deaf.
For some of us, learning to save is like creating a beautiful container: for ourselves and for our lives. You save to celebrate your thriving and create peace of mind for the leaner times. In this way, saving money can be an honoring of the ebbs and flows, rhythms and cycles of life.
Sometimes, we can over-save. We forget that this is an honoring, and step into fear, scarcity, and deprivation. We forget to enjoy life. And you know me: that’s not at all what I’m about!
So check in with yourself periodically: what can savings represent, for you? Is it time to focus on any of these other money areas? Sometimes, it helps to open up the flow of money/energy, so to speak: do you want to give more, so you can receive more? Ask yourself: how can I save without feeling stingy? Let the answers come …
7. Feel and honor your emotions.
One of my dear clients recently told me about going to the bank and depositing $2,000, most of which she put into a brand-new savings account. She cried at the bank counter. You see, she had never had any significant savings before, and having that much money in the bank triggered a flood of relief.
Savings is an emotional journey, too. Remember: money is never just about the money. For many, savings represents safety. Others of my clients feel guilty and Scrooge-y when they see their savings grow. Whatever your feelings around savings — those feelings are there. Feel them. Honor them. Listen to them. Do Body Check-Ins. Be gentle with yourself.
Remember: this savings journey is yours, and yours alone. It isn’t Suze Orman’s journey. It isn’t your best friend’s journey, your father’s journey, or your boss’s. This is your journey with money. Your boyfriend might love tracking savings in spreadsheets — but you might be bored to tears until you adorn an Abundance Jar with ribbons and sparkles.
Make it your own. Let it be what it is. Let it teach you about yourself: your money story, your savings story, your beliefs about safety and abundance, your patterns around discipline, your dreams you want to save for, and all the things you’re really great at.
It’s up to YOU, dear reader. It starts with loving awareness. It ends with loving awareness. And, if we’re lucky, every step along the way … is paved with loving awareness.
Here’s to saving and thriving — your way!