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Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The Secret to Developing a Saver Mindset

You probably know who among your friends is a saver or a spender.

Take your friend Jenny who shows up to a meal with a discount coupon or does DIY snacks at the movies (saver) versus Ty, who always orders an appetizer and an entree or definitely gets large theater popcorn (spender). Maybe you have even given yourself a label.

While there’s truth to the descriptions—some people prefer to save money while others tend to spend—you aren’t stuck as a just a saver or spender forever. And making a switch doesn’t require being good at math or learning all about interest rates and credit scores.

Behavior is 80% of the game, says Kristen Ricupero, a financial coach and owner of Financial Fitness Coaching. “It’s not about the math—it’s the mindset.”

If you generally have trouble building up savings, it might be time to try and change your mindset. Here’s how you can get started.

Set a goal and focus on the feelings

“You have to know what motivates you—why do you want to save,” says Laura Coleman, a financial coach who runs Family Money Coaching. “It’s not the number that’s important, it’s the emotion behind the number.”

Some people start by setting an abstract goal of saving a $3,000 (or some other amount) by the end of the year. But Coleman asks her clients to take a step back and think about why they set the goal.

“What will the money do for you?” she asks. I have people draw me a picture of the goal they want to accomplish and how it will make them feel.”

You can do this on your own by starting with an event or lifestyle that you want to work toward. Perhaps you want to take your family on a vacation, upgrade your car or furniture, not stress about monthly bills, or you may even have a long-term goal, like being able to regularly volunteer once you retire.

Coleman says while focusing on saving money can be boring for natural spenders, focusing on a goal can be exciting. “$3,000 isn’t boring—that buys you a cruise.”

Then, get specific about the money

With your goal in mind, and visual reminders nearby, it’s time to add up the money.

“You have to make a concrete goal with a deadline and a dollar sign,” says Coleman. “If it’s an abstract thing, it’s not going to happen.”

Break down your goal into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes easier to understand and manage. Perhaps your goal costs $3,000 and you’re giving yourself a year. Break it down to monthly ($250), weekly ($58), and daily ($8.25) savings amounts and start with these more manageable sums.

For example, if you’re in the 61% of millennials who don’t have $500 in emergency cash, according to a Varo survey—maybe that’s your first goal. Save $500 for an emergency. That’s $16 a day for one month.

Give yourself some time to get into the habit of saving as well, particularly if you’re setting a lofty goal. “You can’t go from zero to 100 and expect it to work,” says Ricupero. “Some people can spend $0 in a month, but others want a smaller goal. Maybe they try to cut their spending in half.”

Identify what triggers your spending

Setting a specific goal and focusing on what it will feel like to achieve the goal can give you something to look forward to, but natural spenders also must deal with day-to-day spending impulses.

Ricupero says spending isn’t different than any other habit that you might want to break. It’s important to start by identifying what triggers your spending. “Often, it’s stress,” she says.

Once you know your trigger, it’s generally easier to replace your natural response (buying something) with a different behavior. It could be anything: exercising, taking deep breaths, or even transferring the same amount of money into your savings account.

Wait one more day

For natural spenders who want another trick to help them avoid the spending impulse, Ricupero suggests a one-more-day approach.

“See if you can go one more day without buying the thing,” she says. “You might want to go ahead and put something in your cart, but don’t check out. See if you really want the stuff the next day.”

Ricupero has found that many of her clients realize that their desire and “need” disappears by the next day. Some clients even forget that they added items to their cart until they wind up back on the same site weeks later.  

Don’t worry, “natural savers” struggle with money as well

In case you feel like we’re picking on the spenders, know that savers run into money troubles as well.

Ricupero points to people who prioritize long-term savings, but then don’t have enough money for their day-to-day bills. “They might have great savings in one account, such as a retirement account, but they also have great debt and not a lot of cash flow,” says Ricupero. Some savers even wind up paying more interest on their debt than they earn on their savings.

“Or, they might need a new computer shoes, but they won’t upgrade their things,” Ricupero adds. The resulting discomfort and wasted time spent on broken-down products could be averted if they learned to feel more comfortable spending money.

Saver or spender, you may have a few financial habits you’d like to change. While the number can be important, remember it all starts with a focus on your mindset.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou.

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