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Become a Better Saver

In a new series with psychologist Heidi Beckman, we'll explore ways to save more and spend less by using willpower, persistence and impulse control. In part one, we discuss what the barriers to saving are and how you can overcome them to achieve your goals.

Barriers to Motivation

Mindlessness – This occurs when you do something without thinking about it. Say you have $50 in your wallet at the beginning of the week. By Wednesday, you discover that it's gone, but you don't really recall where you spent it. The same can be applied to shopping sprees that have no real purpose. Instead of using logical thought, you are using the forces that operate under the radar of consciousness.

What to Do – Check in with yourself and rate your self-control on a scale of "0" to "10." If it's low, take precaution by not putting yourself in situations where you are making financial decisions. You may also want to go on your savings journey with a friend. That way, you can support each other and hold each other accountable.

Limited Supply of Self-Control – Think of your mind as a bucket. In the bucket, you house your self-control. However, there are other things competing for space in your bucket like stress. If your bucket becomes too full, or the brain becomes cluttered with too many things, you become less able to resist temptation.

An example of this is a study by Stanford professor Baba Shiv. Participants were divided into two groups. One group memorized a two-digit number, and one group memorized a seven-digit number. Then everyone was asked to walk down a long hall. At the end of the hall, they could have one of two snacks—fruit salad or chocolate cake. People given the seven-digit number were twice as likely to choose the cake than the students who had two numbers to memorize. Shiv said that the extra numbers functioned like "cognitive load," meaning there was less space available in the brain to resist temptation.

What to Do – Practice slow breathing for five minutes, go for a walk, take a nap, spend some time with loved ones—all of which are free activities. This strengthens the parts of the brain responsible for planning and judgment while decluttering the brain so you don't act on impulse. Don't turn to watching TV to help you de-stress—it's stimulating and doesn't give you a chance to clear your mind.

Not Having a Growth Mindset – Along your journey, you will have obstacles and setbacks. It's important to interpret these setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than seeing them as "failures" and give up.

What to Do – Increase your growth mindset by setting a small, achievable goal, like saving $25 a month. Once you reach this, reevaluate your larger goal. You will build more self-confidence and weaken or eliminate thoughts of self-defeat.

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Heidi Beckman Heidi Beckman, Ph.D., is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and author of Pocket Change, Using the Science of Personal Change to Improve Financial Habits (to be released early 2013). Beckman is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in helping people with chronic illness make changes in their lives to support their overall health and well-being.



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