How to Save on Auto-Pilot

As savers, we can often be our own worst enemy. 

After all, when we sit down to make long term plans, we usually decide that we need to actively save more money each month to allow us to achieve our ambition. This could be purchasing a house, going on a big holiday, retiring early, or perhaps starting a business. 

Money, it seems, is often the seed that many big ideas require. 

Yet, who often causes the most problems for us when we try to save? Why it’s ourselves!

  • We tend to spend more when we’re emotional, as our long term plans are sacrificed in favor of immediate gratification
  • We become swept up in rivalry and competition with our peers, consciously or not. We buy ever more expensive things to raise our status in society as a ‘successful’ individual. 
  • We create strict budgets based on perfection and feel demotivated when we stray from them. Often this happens simply because ‘real life gets in the way’. 

So it would seem that one of the biggest barriers we have to save is human nature itself. The errors listed above are repeated all over the world by people of all shapes and sizes. They’re all driven by instinct, societal pressures, and little mistakes, so they’re difficult to avoid.

Taking ‘me’ out of the equation

I’m therefore going to suggest a rogue idea to help you navigate the world of saving: take yourself out of the equation. 

By ‘yourself’, I’m really talking about willpower. Willpower is ultimately the crux of most savings plans. A plan that relies too heavily upon it will always fail. 

Why? Because willpower is not a steady stream of motivational force. It’s a sensitive force that rises and falls with our mood, time of day, seasons, and even our hunger level. 

If a savings goal requires a will power level of 80%, then it will always fail if your willpower falls to 79% at least at some point in the next month. You are now beginning to see the issue – this is almost inevitable, as we all have our low points. Nobody is able to maintain willpower at 100% 24/7. This is why the methods pushed in investing books often work for a short period then collapse.

To succeed in saving, you need to create a plan that doesn’t require any significant willpower at all. And better still, one which taps into basic and automatic instincts to drive your behavior. 

Putting your savings on autopilot

The method a financial adviser would use is by automating your savings routine. This can be done in simple of two ways:

  • Create a standing order each month which transfers money from your main bank account into a savings account. Preferable one which you cannot access on a short term basis. 
  • Use a savings app / Robo advisor to do this for you. This works in a similar way but uses an algorithm to calculate how much money you can afford to transfer each month. I haven’t personally used these apps but many find them to be more flexible than a fixed monthly transfer.

The transfer should be timed to occur the day after your salary is paid. If you are paid weekly, you should consider a weekly transfer to match the frequency of your income. 

This idea is stolen from the tax collectors of the world – who realized many years ago that the best way to collect income tax was to deduct it from employee’s pay before they had the chance to spend it. The technique has worked very well for them, so let’s now use it for our personal benefit!

If you are able to transfer funds into an account with restricted withdrawals, this is even better. Now, your bank account will never be overflowing with a tempting wage ready to be spent. Instead, you’ll always be an uncomfortable distance from 0, which will tap into your basic instinct to be frugal and careful when you’re dealing with a scarce resource. 

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